A State Supreme Court justice in a closed-door hearing issued a temporary court order Thursday blocking release of financial disclosure forms of a Suffolk District Attorney bureau chief amid a controversy over renting his partyboat to defense attorneys.
Justice Joseph Santorelli’s order bars the Suffolk County Board of Ethics from turning over forms of Assistant District Attorney John Scott Prudenti at the county legislature’s Ways and Means Committee Friday. The committee will still meet in Riverhead to find out why ethics officials denied Newsday’s request for the disclosures.
Santorelli also ordered the ethics board to give him a confidential proposed order by Friday, as well as the disputed financial disclosure statements in a sealed envelope. He ordered all sides to file papers with the court by Oct. 18, for possible argument Oct. 20.
Before issuing the order, Santorelli held in a 40-minute closed door hearing in his chambers in Riverhead. He denied Newsday’s request to be present. Santorelli took the case after Prudenti’s lawyers went to four judges who recused themselves, and a fifth, who was not in.
“We’re very grateful he decided to hear it and grant the temporary restraining order,” said David Besso, Prudenti’s attorney. John Gross, attorney for ethics board, said, “We will not release the documents until we are directed to do so.”
The controversy arose last week when Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called for immediate release of Prudenti’s disclosure forms and later asked the legislature to use its power under the ethics law to compel the board to release the documents by a two-thirds vote.
Bellone in May had asked the ethics board to investigate whether Prudenti violated the county ethics law’s conflict of interest provisions by renting his partyboat to defense attorneys with whom he had negotiated plea deals. Bellone said releasing the 15 years of forms is crucial to determining if Prudenti failed to disclose the partyboat income, a crime for which Bellone said District Attorney Thomas Spota has convicted others. Bellone also called for the forms’ immediate release because Prudenti could retire with 30 years of service on Oct. 20.
In court papers, Besso said release of the documents would be “illegal.” Besso argued that “the exposure of these forms poses a threat to Mr. Prudenti and his family and delivers a chilling message to other prosecutors that their privacy is not protected by the county executive.”
The county, in court papers, said the forms are open for “public inspection” under the law and there is nothing in the record that indicates Prudenti ever asked the ethics board to redact specific details for privacy reasons as permitted by the law.
Besso said Bellone has made “slanderous insinuations about Mr. Prudenti” because of an ongoing feud with District Attorney Thomas Spota to “satisfy his pique.” Besso said the boat rentals occurred more than 20 years ago, and the urgency Bellone cited “was fabricated” because Prudenti was already eligible to retire with 30 years on the job in May. The state comptroller office said Prudenti has filed no retirement papers.