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Levy hires Democratic lawyer before inquiry

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy during the opening

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy during the opening of a new community outreach center in Huntington Station. (Aug. 19, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has hired a well-known Nassau Democratic lawyer to represent him before the county legislature's inquiry into the county Ethics Commission, officials said Wednesday.

Steven Schlesinger, counsel to the Nassau Democratic Party and managing partner in the Garden City law firm of Jaspan Schlesinger, said Levy hired him about a week ago to ensure that the committee's inquiry is "fair, open and honest."

Asked if he would also represent Levy in the ongoing district attorney's investigation into the matter, Schlesinger said, "I don't think there's any meaningful investigation that involves him." The district attorney's office declined to comment.

Schlesinger said his personal politics had nothing to do his hiring. Levy was a lifelong Democrat until earlier this year, when he became a Republican in a failed bid for governor.

Last month, the legislature hired former federal prosecutor Joseph Conway of Mineola as special counsel for the inquiry. The legislature acted after Newsday reported that since 2006, Levy had been filing a state financial disclosure form, instead of the more extensive county disclosure form required of roughly 650 county employees. Levy has since filed the county forms.

Ed Dumas, Levy's chief deputy county executive, said in a statement that Schlesinger would submit a brief supporting Levy's position that his filing of the state form satisfied all filing requirements. He also said, "Counsel will also be insisting that the analysis not be restricted to the executive branch."

Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) said the committee is likely to begin hearing testimony next week.

Schlesinger, in a letter to Conway, asked for the names of witnesses and the ability to cross-examine them. He also asked to present witnesses to testify on Levy's behalf.

Lindsay said Levy had "misportrayed" the goal of the inquiry. "It isn't about Steve Levy."

Instead, he said, the legislature hopes to determine whether the commission has been acting properly. "The bright light of sunshine on everything that government does stops an awful lot of mischief," he said.

Schlesinger said the county would not be paying his legal bills. He said he would charge Levy his standard municipal rate, but said he could not remember. Municipal rates charged by law firms are typically discounted.

County records show that Suffolk County has paid Jaspan Schlesinger about $1.6 million inthe past four years for tax work and other matters.

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