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Nassau lawyers squabble over authority to request state opinions

Nassau County’s lawyers are squabbling over who has the right to ask for a legal opinion from the state attorney general’s office.

It started when Peter Clines, counsel to Democratic county legislators,  wrote on March 14 to the state solicitor general in the attorney general’s office, asking for an informal opinion on a proposed 30-year “use and occupancy permit” in Mitchel Park.

County Executive Edward Mangano has proposed a 20-year permit, with a 10-year-optional extension, for Molloy College to use a ballpark in Mitchel Field. Molloy would pay $1.3 million toward improvements and pay 50 percent of park fees to use the field during championship and non-championship baseball seasons. The public would be able to use the field at other times.

Democrats argue the deal is a “lease” and needs approval of the full county legislature and the state legislature since dedicated parkland is involved. The Republican administration contends the deal is a license, which needs only Rules Committee approval, because Molloy does not have exclusive use of the field and the permit can be revoked at will, so long as the county repays some of the improvement costs to Molloy.

Clines asked for an informal opinion as to whether the agreement “constitutes a lease or some other form of alienaion of parkland, requiring state legislatiave approval” and cites legal cases bolstering the Democrat’s position.

County Attorney John Ciampoli on March 15 wrote Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, saying that Clines “is wholly without authority to make such a request.”

Ciampoli wrote that attorney general policy is that a request for informal opinion “must be submitted by a municipal attorney.” But, Ciampoli said, Clines is not part of his office and thus has no authority to make such a request.

“This is an exciting opportunity with a longstanding user of the field for the county to leverage private funds to enhance the public use of the field, rather than a usurpation of a public asset,” Ciampoli said, saying the deal was "carefully structured as a revokable license giving Molloy non-exclusive use of the field.."

He asked that Schneideerman rejects Clines request “as unauthorized and without merit.”

Schneiderman’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), who asked Clines to seek the attorney general’s opinion, said,  “Given his track record of consistently erroneous legal opinions, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s no surprise that Mr. Ciampoli is scared to get a legal opinion from the State Attorney General.”

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