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Suffolk ethics panel must release DA bureau chief disclosures

John Scott Prudenti on March 20, 2006.

John Scott Prudenti on March 20, 2006. Photo Credit: Newsday / Jim Peppler

State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Santorelli on Friday ordered the Suffolk Board of Ethics to release the financial disclosure forms of Assistant District Attorney John Scott Prudenti to a Suffolk legislative committee after Santorelli and the board redact confidential information.

Santorelli said in a ruling that he will return a redacted version to the ethics board within seven days. He ordered the board to make “appropriate redactions” of its own before turning the documents over to the Ways and Means committee by Nov. 14.

“I’m pleased the court vindicated the legislature’s right to obtain and review these documents in performance of their oversight function,” said legislative counsel George Nolan.

David Besso, Prudenti’s attorney, said he will appeal the decision next week. Besso said county disclosure legislation is pre-empted by state law and the ethics board’s original decision to deny Newsday’s request for the records was proper.

“I don’t think the legislature ... should have questioned the decision of the board,” Besso said. “It was really a slap in the face” for lawmakers “to interfere with board’s expertise and authority.”

Board attorney John Gross said the board will comply with the court order, and will make any necessary redactions as required by the county law.

The controversy began earlier this month when Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone pressed the ethics board to release the forms to determine if Prudenti, a district attorney bureau chief, had reported revenue from renting his partyboat to defense attorneys with whom he negotiated plea deals. Bellone argues that failure to disclose would violate laws that District Attorney Thomas Spota has used to convict others.

In his decision, Santorelli said, “Under the circumstances, this court does not believe that the petitioner is entitled to an exemption as a law enforcement filer. Balancing the need to protect the confidential information of the petitioner with the mandate to make government records available to the public ... the court holds the financial disclosure statements, as redacted, must be provided.”

Santorelli’s ruling came after he issued a temporary order a week earlier blocking release of the documents when Prudenti sued to keep them confidential.

A day after that order, ethics officials disclosed to lawmakers that the board only has records for the years 2006 to 2014. That is partly because the county only retains records for seven years and the district attorney’s office exempted bureau chiefs such as Prudenti from mandatory filing requirements in 2015, board officials said.

Santorelli said that although Prudenti did not request that the ethics board withhold information on his disclosure as “an unwarranted invasion of privacy ... or a risk to security, the court has conducted an in camera review ... of the statements ... and has redacted confidential information to protect the petitioner and his family.”

Santorelli also said the ethics board should “make the appropriate redactions” under county law.

Santorelli indicated that he had made redactions because “this court is faced with the issue of protecting the confidential information of a career assistant district attorney who over the course of his career has tried and supervised innumerable criminal trials and investigations.”

Bellone called Santorelli’s decision a “victory for transparency and affirms what we have been saying, that these are public documents. Now that the Judge has dismantled the arguments put forward by Prudenti and the Board of Ethics, we will continue pressing until the documents have been turned over to the public.”

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