Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto and 10 current or former town officials and consultants can be questioned by federal attorneys in depositions related to a lawsuit alleging the town discriminated against African-Americans in two housing programs, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke in Central Islip told representatives of the town and federal government to work out a schedule for depositions and submit it to him by Saturday.
The Department of Justice in 2014 sued the town and Venditto, alleging Oyster Bay’s preference for town residents and their children in its below-market-rate senior and first-time-buyer housing programs is discriminatory because few African-Americans live in the town. African-Americans comprise less than 1 percent of town residents eligible for the programs, according to court documents.
Attorneys are required to obtain court permission if they have plans for more than 10 depositions. The U.S. Attorney’s Office had already taken or scheduled 10 depositions and requested 16 additional ones.
Among the 11 people whose depositions Locke approved are Venditto, Town Attorney Leonard Genova, town board members Chris Coschignano and Anthony Muscarella, and former board member Rose Walker.
The lawsuit challenges the selection process for Golden Age, the program for senior residents that began in 1993, and Next Generation, a program for first-time homebuyers started in 2004.
Locke wrote May 10 that because the case involves housing programs enacted more than a decade apart, many people were involved in approving, implementing and administering them, so a relatively large number of depositions is appropriate.
The town’s lawyers opposed the request for additional depositions, arguing they were unnecessary and that, if granted, it would “impose extraordinary expense and burden on the town . . . and its taxpayers.”
Locke dismissed that argument, pointing to the hundreds of thousands of dollars the town has spent to defend itself in the case and its hiring of an international law firm to do so. The firm, Covington & Burling LLP, with offices in five countries, counts former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as one of its partners.
Town officials have denied the programs are discriminatory. Venditto said in an interview last summer that residency preferences for the programs were instituted so that local senior citizens and first-time homebuyers could afford to stay in Oyster Bay near family and friends.
But the justice department attorneys said in the 2014 complaint that the residency preferences helped result in no black residents in 58 first-time-buyer units and very few in more than 1,400 senior housing units the town had approved.