Democratic Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen has posted on the town’s website the cost of outside counsel for the past two years, after three Republican council members and the town board’s only other Democrat again stalled a plan to solicit competitive proposals for legal services.
Gillen’s online chart shows Berkman, Henoch, Peterson, Peddy & Fenchel PC — the law firm that employs Nassau Republican Chairman Joseph Mondello as counsel and former Republican Hempstead Presiding Supervisor Gregory Peterson as a partner — collected a total of $2,266,339 for the past two years — more than all other outside law firms combined. Mondello, who has been nominated as ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago by President Donald Trump, recently reported on federal financial disclosures that he had been paid $519,332 by the law firm over the past two years.
Also high on Gillen’s list, at a two-year total of $191,303, is the law firm of Jaspan Schlesinger LLP, where Lisa Cairo, daughter of expected Mondello successor and the Nassau GOP’s committee first vice chairman Joseph Cairo, is a partner.
Attorney Steven M. Lester of Garden City, who serves as counsel to Democratic senior town board member Dorothy Goosby, is listed as being paid $120,000 over two years.
Goosby, along with Republican board members Anthony D’Esposito, Dennis Dunne and Ed Ambrosino, voted twice in a row to table Gillen’s plan to seek competitive bids for professional services costing more than $20,000.
Erin King Sweeney, leader of the town board’s GOP majority, said she originally voted to table Gillen’s proposal because she wanted to improve it. King Sweeney subsequently amended the plan to drop the threshold for seeking competitive bids for legal services to $10,000. Though King Sweeney tweeted last week that “common sense #transparency deserves unanimous support,” only she and Gillen voted against tabling the plan.
Gillen said in a statement she posted the legal costs because “I’m committed to open government by breaking down the walls of secrecy and silence that have shrouded Town Hall for far too long.”
King Sweeney said, “I remain 100 percent committed to all measures which bring greater transparency to the Town of Hempstead. As elected representatives, we serve as financial stewards of taxpayer money. We have the obligation to make sure all money is properly spent. I am hopeful the rest of the Board will embrace my efforts.”
Outside legal costs in 2016 and 2017 totaled $3,158,668, according to the posted chart.
Other outside counsel include the Mineola law firm of Bee Ready Fishbein Hatter & Donovan LLP, which includes partner and founder Peter Bee, a longtime elections lawyer for the Nassau GOP and labor counsel in both Hempstead and Nassau County. The firm was paid about $70,000 over two years.
Vigilant Consulting, LLC of East Rockaway, run by Christopher Shelton, was paid $144,000 over two years for consulting services for the Republican majority.
Former Republican Supreme Court Justice Joseph Calabrese was paid $3,500 as a hearing officer in 2017, former Hempstead Deputy Town Attorney Philip R. Marino was paid $114,675 over two years for legal consultation, and former Deputy Town Attorney Eugene Ferencik was paid nearly $30,000 over two years for legal consulting.