The Town of Islip has spent nearly $3 million this year fighting a federal voting rights lawsuit, according to town financial documents.
The money has come from the town's fund balance reserve, town officials said. The 2019 budget had originally allocated $180,000 for outside professional legal fees.
Four Latino Brentwood residents and two community groups are suing the town of Islip and the Suffolk Board of Elections over the electoral system, which they say denies Latinos equal representation in town government. Minorities make up about half of Islip's population, according to census figures, but none has ever been on the town board.
The lawsuit seeks councilmanic redistricting to create at least one district with a Latino majority. Islip currently has an at-large voting system in which candidates are elected by a townwide majority rather than by districts.
In May, a federal judge denied a request by the plaintiffs to overhaul the electoral system before this year's elections for town positions while awaiting the trial to begin.
"Despite a similar effort being voted down by Town of Islip residents in 2005, the Town has been forced to defend a federal lawsuit brought by politically motivated organizations challenging the long-standing electoral process of the Town of Islip," Islip town lawyer John DiCioccio said in an emailed statement. "The overwhelming majority of these expenses were to prepare for and participate in a three week hearing after which the Judge ruled that plaintiffs had not shown they were likely to win their case and denied their motion to change the electoral system for 2019."
The town's legal bills for the lawsuit alone were $2.9 million this year, town officials said.
Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter did not respond to a request for comment. In November, during an interview about the town's new budget, she said the legal expenses are "precisely why you have reserves."
"The lawsuit certainly was out of our control. Remember that this town had put a referendum on the ballot ... (in 2005), which is what this is all about. It was defeated by the voters," she added.
The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Fred Brewington of Hempstead, said the case is currently in the discovery phase. "The parties have been actively engaged in document exchange. The next step will be the taking of further depositions of witnesses," he said.
The town has also spent approximately another $1 million on legal fees unrelated to the lawsuit, according to town records. Those expenses were incurred for "outside labor counsel," said town spokeswoman Caroline Smith in an email, as well as fees for the defense and prosecution stemming from the illegal dumping in Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood as well as other state and federal legal matters.