Officials were uncertain Monday about whether a new Suffolk law requiring the county ethics board to release officials’ financial disclosure publicly would apply to John Scott Prudenti, a district attorney bureau chief who rented his party boat to criminal defense attorneys with cases before the district attorney’s office.
John Gross, general counsel for the ethics board, said that while the panel would comply with the new law, a judicial order prohibits it from releasing Prudenti’s disclosures.
“The court order that exists will prohibit the release of the financial disclosure statement of Mr. Prudenti,” said Gross, a partner at Hauppauge law firm Ingerman Smith.
Prudenti’s attorney, Dave Besso, said the law wouldn’t apply to his client. The sponsor of the legislation, Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), and the county attorney said it was unclear whether the legislation would compel the ethics board to release Prudenti’s disclosure form.
The law, signed Monday by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, says disclosures filed with the ethics board are not confidential and are to be made available within 10 days of a written request.
Bellone said the new law “makes it crystal clear financial disclosure forms are public documents and not meant to be withheld.”
Bellone agreed that the court order prevented the release of Prudenti’s disclosure. But he said the county attorney’s office was “exploring all options.”
Fleming said she introduced the bill after the ethics board rejected a Newsday Freedom of Information Law request and appeal for the Prudenti disclosure. The board argued that releasing the form could compromise Prudenti’s privacy.
A Newsday story last year reported that Prudenti had rented his 47-foot party boat, the Christina Marie, to defense attorneys for parties and charter fishing trips. The office of Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, which confirmed rentals, said they stopped in 2010.
Prudenti sued and won a temporary court order blocking the release of his financial disclosure form.
Fleming said “the sole purpose of financial disclosure forms is to make the public aware of potential conflicts of interest.” She said she believed the ethics board erred by refusing to release the form: “They’re clearly wrong.”
Besso, a former chairman of Suffolk’s prior ethics panel, the county Ethics Commission, said that while the court order prevented the release of Prudenti’s disclosure, “financial disclosure forms should be made public.”
But Besso said police officers, prosecutors and others deserved to have their privacy protected.
“I think it’s a good thing to have the forms disclosed to the public, as long as it protects the individual from any danger or anything else that would prove injurious,” Besso said.
Spota spokesman Robert Clifford declined to comment.
The legislature’s Ways and Means Committee, which Fleming chairs, requested and obtained Prudenti’s disclosure forms, but he sued to stop public release. The State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Second Department has ordered the legislature not to release the forms while the legal fight is going on.
George Nolan, counsel to the county legislature, said “it’s not clear” whether the court order prevents the ethics panel from releasing Prudenti’s disclosure. However, Nolan said the new law does not permit county legislators to release the disclosure.
The new law, which passed the legislature unanimously on April 25, also requires the ethics board to notify individuals when they have filed complaints incorrectly.