It may have appeared like a conflict of interest when attorney Steven Leventhal appeared on behalf of Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foskey at an adversarial closed-door meeting Tuesday evening of the county’s financial control board — which includes Leventhal’s CPA brother, Paul.
But both sides said afterward there was no ethics violation: The board took no action and, Steve Leventhal added, neither brother has an interest in the county union contracts that were discussed.
However, both Adam Barsky, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, and NIFA general counsel Jeremy Wise said they will be more watchful of the brothers’ relationship in the future.
“There was no problem with what happened last night. It’s a problem now that we are aware of it,” Barsky said Wednesday. “If we were to be doing something specifically with respect to Foskey on a personal basis, it would raise the potential, or even the appearance, of a potential conflict.”
Wise said, “In the future we will be especially sensitive to this appearance issue and take appropriate actions as we feel necessary.”
NIFA had ordered Foskey to appear to discuss his progress in assembling comprehensive outlines of the county’s five major union contracts. Although NIFA is required to approve the labor deals, which expire in December, the control board complained last year that it had never received summaries of each contract — just stacks of disjointed side letters, arbitration awards, memorandums of understanding and settlement agreements dating back 30 years.
NIFA ordered Foskey to provide a single discreet contract for all five unions or face personal sanctions. Foskey contends he gave the board what they wanted earlier this month, but said he cannot force the unions to sign off on his compilations.
Foskey showed up Tuesday as ordered. But Foskey also brought along Peter Bee, the county’s main labor counsel, and, as his personal counsel, Steven Leventhal, who holds the county contract to provide legal advice to the county’s ethics board.
The discussion was private, but sources say Steven Leventhal spoke for Foskey while Paul Leventhal remained silent, listening.
After Newsday inquired, Foskey said he had a right to be represented by an attorney to protect his office and the county’s interests. He said Leventhal’s contract not only calls for him to serve as counsel to the ethics board, but also to provide advice and assistance to the county attorney.
“Steve disclosed to me beforehand, as a client, that his brother is on the NIFA board. It was not a problem to me, as county attorney,” Foskey said.
Steve Leventhal added, “It should also be pointed out that the purpose of the meeting last night was to have a discussion. There was no matter before the NIFA board to be decided. There was no conflict of interest. . . . It was just a discussion.”
But if the NIFA board, after Foskey and his attorneys departed, discussed whether Foskey had complied with the order, the brother of Foskey’s attorney would be involved in making that determination.
Steven Leventhal said that still would not be a problem. “Neither I nor my brother have any personal interest in the matter of the discussion.” The definition of a conflict of interest, he said, is “to have a personal or private interest that is different than what all the citizens of the county have.”
Paul Leventhal declined to comment.