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Panel subpoenas Suffolk Ethics Commission's records

After failing to negotiate a release of records from the Suffolk Ethics Commission, the special legislative committee investigating the commission has subpoenaed a range of records and scheduled two witnesses for its meeting Tuesday.

The subpoena sets a Friday deadline for turning over the records. Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), who formed the committee, said he expected the commission to move to quash the subpoenas in court.

Calls to the Ethics Commission and the commission's special counsel, Steven Leventhal, were not returned Monday. In a recent news release, the commission argued that its proceedings are confidential by law. The commission met in a public session last week, but declined to answer questions from the public.

The legislative committee, formed after Newsday reported that Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy had been filing the state financial disclosure form instead of the county form, which asks for specific financial information, is scheduled to meet Tuesday in Hauppauge. Lindsay said two witnesses are expected to testify, but he declined to name them.

Calls to Levy's office for comment on the issuance of the subpoena were not returned.

The committee's subpoena seeks from the commission all Freedom of Information requests and ethics complaints made since Jan. 1, 2006; any legal justification on whether filing a state disclosure form exempts a county official from filing a county form; a list of other county employees filing the state form, and legal analyses and advisory opinions about conflicts of interest involving spouses or family members of county officials. It also seeks all opinions and legal analyses provided to the commission by county attorneys, outside counsel or expert consultants after May 15, 2009.

The Legislature granted the committee subpoena power two weeks ago after negotiations over the committee's request for records stalled. In a letter to the committee's special counsel, Joseph Conway, Leventhal said the commission might "seek judicial guidance" in deciding what to turn over under a subpoena. Conway told legislators he understood that to mean Leventhal might move to quash the subpoena.

Ethics opinions are confidential under the law, although the county Charter allows them to be published if the names are redacted. Lindsay said the committee offered to accept redacted opinions, but that offer was rejected.

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