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Woman fired for mocking Suozzi could be awarded more

Already down $3.4 million in a federal lawsuit for unfairly firing a Port Washington woman, Nassau County could owe her even more money, lawyers said Tuesday.

Douglas Wigdor, the Manhattan lawyer representing Georgina Morgenstern, 54, said he expected to get up to an additional $1 million in "front pay" for his client, who was fired in December 2003, after publicly mocking then-County Executive Thomas Suozzi. Front pay represents losses that Morgenstern will experience in the future if she does not find a comparable job.

While not giving any figure, County Attorney John Ciampoli said his office is "actively engaged in settlement negotiations with them, with the goal of both sides to enter into a global settlement for every part of the action."

Morgenstern, who was a civil service employee, could not be reached for comment.

In August, a federal jury awarded Morgenstern $1.5 million for emotional distress, and $100,000 each in punitive damages from the three county officials found at fault: Chief Deputy County Executive Anthony Cancellieri, personnel director John Donnelly and Planning Executive commissioner Patricia Bourne, for whom Morgenstern worked. Suozzi was dropped from the lawsuit before trial.

On Dec. 15, a Central Islip court order by Magistgrate Judge Arlene R. Lindsay awarded Morgenstern an additional $427,718 in back pay; $1,059,255 for attorney's fees; $64,500 for costs; and $46,667 for prejudgment interest.

Cancellieri fired Morgenstern in December 2003, after she mocked Suozzi over a live microphone in an unused legislative meeting room. Her comments were broadcast throughout the executive building.

Cancellieri had said she was a probationary employee and could be fired at will. The federal jury disagreed.

Former County Attorney Lorna Goodman, said Tuesday: "She really was a probationary employee, but it was complicated, and the jury didn't understand it."

Wigdor said, "We hope people will understand that the constitutional violations were at the hands of the Suozzi administration and not the current one."

Michael Martino, a spokesman for new County Executive Edward Mangano, agreed, saying, "This is just another mess from the previous administration that we will have to clean up, and it's an expensive one for the taxpayers."

Suozzi, who works as a consultant for Cablevision, which owns Newsday, declined to comment.

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