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Court blocks committee's subpoena in ethics probe

The Suffolk County Ethics Commission Monday went to court to try to stop an investigation by a special legislative committee, but a judge declined to immediately grant that request, instead agreeing to temporarily block the committee's subpoenas for records.

After meeting in chambers in Central Islip, Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo set a hearing for Nov. 15, when he will hear arguments on whether to grant the commission's request for a temporary restraining order barring the committee from conducting any further proceedings and whether to quash the committee's subpoena for records. The committee can continue its work, but without enforcing its subpoena.

The commission argued that Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) did not have the authority to appoint the committee, according to court papers. Lindsay formed the special committee in June, after Newsday reported Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy had been filing a state financial disclosure form, instead of the county form, which seeks specific financial information not requested by the state form.

Monday, Lindsay blasted the commission's effort to stop the investigation. "What is the commission afraid of?" he said.

A call to the commission was not returned Monday. In a news release, the commission said committee members were not independent and that records kept by the commission were confidential.

Levy declined to comment.

The legislative committee subpoenaed ethics records after the commission declined to turn over records voluntarily.

After the court conference, commission counsel Bennett Sliney said the commission was trying to comply with the law requiring that ethics records be confidential. "We'd be happy to have a judge say, 'Turn them over,' " he said.

The committee's subpoena seeks all Freedom of Information requests and ethics complaints since Jan. 1, 2006; any legal justification on whether filing a state disclosure form exempts a county official from filing a county form before May 15, 2007; 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.

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