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Suffolk audit case to be heard Thursday as judge recuses himself

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and county Comptroller

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and county Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. Credit: Composite: Howard Schnapp; James Escher

Suffolk Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone's effort to keep Republican Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. from getting audit data about the $1.1 billion Ronkonkoma arena project was put on hold Tuesday when a judge recused himself from the case.

State Supreme Court Justice Robert Quinlan removed himself because before his election as judge, he served as Brookhaven Town attorney at a time when he was heavily involved with work on the nearby Ronkonkoma Hub project, now under construction.

The case is scheduled to be heard Thursday before State Supreme Court Justice Sanford Berland, husband of Democratic Suffolk Legis. Susan Berland of Dix Hills.

Berland indicated he has an advisory opinion saying he does not necessarily have to disqualify himself from cases involving county issues, but he will see if either side asks him to step aside.

Peter Bee, Kennedy’s attorney, declined to comment on his position.

Kennedy said he has received only 50 percent of the information requested for a performance audit on the arena project. A Chicago firm, Jones Lang LaSalle, was chosen as master developer of the proposed 17,500-seat arena, and a hotel and medical and research facilities.

Kennedy has subpoenaed documents, and Bellone’s attorneys are seeking to quash the subpoena.

Bellone argues Kennedy cannot interfere with the developer selection process — a county executive's prerogative, Bellone says — and can only audit later.

Bellone aides also said Kennedy was “unprofessional” last fall when he called the selection process “problematic” before the audit. “How can the comptroller criticize a process before conducting an actual audit?” asked Jason Elan, a Bellone spokesman.

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