The law firm of Abrams Fensterman began representing Democratic County Executive Laura Curran and the Nassau elections board two weeks ago without an approved contract or legislative review.
A partner in the Lake Success law firm filed notice with the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District on April 13 that Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Formato, Ferrara, Wolf & Carone LLP represented Nassau and the elections board in a civil rights lawsuit filed by former Long Beach City Council candidate Runnie Myles. Court records also show attorney Amy Marion filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. On April 16, Judge Sandra J. Feuerstein denied the motion as procedurally defective.
Both Republican and Democratic county lawmakers have complained for years about previous county executives allowing vendors to begin work without required legislative approval. Democrats also have consistently opposed the hiring of expensive outside law firms to do work that they contend can be handled by in-house attorneys at a much lower cost.
In the wake of a 2015 scandal involving Nassau contracts, lawmakers two years ago dropped the threshold from $25,000 to $1,000 for the county executive to hire professional services, such as law firms, without legislative approval.
But legislators said last week they had yet to see a contract for the hiring of Abrams Fensterman, whose managing partner Howard Fensterman is a major Democratic contributor. Fensterman, who has raised money for Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, donated $10,000 to Curran’s campaign last year and contributed $53,500 to the Nassau Democratic Committee since 2011, state records show. The law firm contributed $1,000 to Curran in January.
“Work shouldn’t begin until the contract is approved,” said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport.) “I don’t understand what Abrams Fensterman is doing.”
Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said in a statement, “To protect the taxpayers, the county needs to have a balance of county attorneys and outside counsel for its legal work. We will look for a full report on the work of this firm on this case.”
A Curran spokesman declined all comment except to say “The contract is pending legislative review.”
Abrams Fensterman did not return a request for comment.
Myle’s attorney, Jonathan Clarke, called it “ironic” that Curran gave one of her first no-bid contracts to a contributor after she campaigned on ridding the county of corruption and reforming its procurement system.
“I don’t really understand it,” said Clarke. “It’s the strangest thing.”
Clarke alleges in the lawsuit that the county, its elections board and Democratic County chairman Jay Jacobs violated Myles’ civil rights by keeping him off the Democratic primary ballot for the Long Beach City Council race last year. Myles and two running mates withdrew their nominating petitions after they were challenged by three Democratic City Council candidates supported by Jacobs and represented by attorney Jared Kasschau, who was then with the law firm of Harris Beach of Uniondale and is now Curran’s county attorney.
“It’s about as frivolous a claim as you can get,” Jacobs said. “My expectation is that it will be dismissed fairly quickly. If you read the complaint, its contradictory and without merit.”