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Suffolk files in support of Newsday request to release Levy agreement

Suffolk County has filed a motion in support of Newsday’s request to intervene in a lawsuit by former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who wants to block the Suffolk district attorney's office from releasing his confidential 2011 non-prosecution agreement to Newsday.

In filings in Suffolk County Supreme Court Wednesday, Suffolk County Attorney Dennis Cohen urged Judge Paul Baisley to grant Newsday’s motion to intervene in the case. Newsday in its June 8 court filing cited "significant public interest" in requesting that Baisley unseal all documents in the case and release the Levy agreement.

Levy initially filed his May 17 case against the district attorney's office anonymously, court papers show, but Suffolk successfully argued that Levy be the named plaintiff. Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini’s office had planned to comply with the Newsday request by releasing the agreement on May 21, court papers said.

Newsday’s original Freedom of Information Law request, filed Feb. 22, followed public comments by Levy in a Newsday opinion piece in which he downplayed his activities and indicated he regretted having signed the agreement. The comments followed former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota’s conviction on obstruction charges along with his former anticorruption chief Christopher McPartland.

The county’s filing Wednesday revealed that Levy is seeking an injunction to block a response to the Newsday FOIL request from the district attorney, along with a declaration that Levy’s agreement is "confidential and exempt from FOIL disclosure."

The county’s filing in support of Newsday’s motion to intervene notes that "each and every element of Levy’s petition and the motions in its wake are directed at and focused on prohibiting, preventing, enjoining and declaring that Newsday should not be provided with the agreement …"

An affidavit by Cohen in court papers notes that Levy alleged the Suffolk district attorney's office have been acting "in excess of its jurisdiction" in preparing to release the agreement to Newsday.

The county’s filing notes that the "same fundamental issues of law and fact" are present in both Levy’s and Newsday’s filings in the case, namely whether the Levy non-prosecution agreement "falls under an exception to disclosure under FOIL, such as privacy or matters related to a criminal investigation."

An attorney for Levy filed court papers Wednesday asking a judge to deny Newsday’s motion to intervene and gain access to his agreement, arguing that Levy is "no longer a ‘high-ranking pubic official’ with a diminished privacy expectation."

Newsday isn’t a party to the non-prosecution agreement, Levy’s papers argue, and the judge’s decision to seal the case was the result of an "independent determination" that weighed the public interest against Levy’s.

Spota in 2011 said his office had conducted a 16-month investigation of Levy’s campaign practices and finances, but nothing about that probe was ever labeled criminal or even entered in court filings, records searches showed. Spota, McPartland and Levy did not respond to questions about whether a grand jury had ever been empaneled as part of the probe.

Spota in 2011 said his probe "revealed serious issues with regard to fundraising" by Levy’s campaign. The agreement forced Levy to forfeit his $4 million campaign war chest and not seek public office. Levy at the time acknowledged "questions have been raised concerning fundraising through my political campaign," for which he accepted responsibility."

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