Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer William J. Lindsay listens during...

Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer William J. Lindsay listens during a legislature meeting in Hauppauge. (Aug. 3, 2010) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

The Suffolk County Legislature's special counsel investigating the county Ethics Commission Wednesday requested a number of documents and asked to interview current and former commission members, a move that could force a political and legal showdown.

The Ethics Commission has in the past refused to release records of its proceedings without subpoenas. In June, District Attorney Thomas Spota subpoenaed financial disclosure records filed with the commission after a commission attorney said the records would have to be subpoenaed.

A four-person legislative committee, formed after Newsday reported County Executive Steve Levy had filed the state's financial disclosure form rather than the county form, which asks for, among other things, specific dollar amounts, does not currently have subpoena power. Kara Hahn, the spokeswoman for Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), said the committee may seek it if the request for records is refused. If the committee decides to seek subpoena power, it would require a vote of the legislature.

Special counsel Joseph Conway's request came during an 11-minute committee meeting in Hauppauge. "It is my hope that those I need to speak with will do so voluntarily and documents will be provided voluntarily and expeditiously," Conway said.

Lindsay declined to hear testimony, despite a protest by Levy's attorney, Steven Schlesinger, who was one of 11 Levy representatives in attendance, that he be allowed to.

Levy did not appear at the meeting, but his representatives objected to the inquiry. "There was not one scintilla of reason for this committee to be convened other than to engage in political theater," Schlesinger said.

Another Levy attorney, Schlesinger partner Stan Camhi, said the law supported Levy's filing of a state disclosure form in place of the county form. He also said the Ethics Commission "rendered an opinion" allowing Levy to substitute the form. However, in response to questions, he declined to say whether such an opinion existed. "You'll have to direct your inquiry elsewhere," he said.

In a news release after the committee meeting, Levy said he had always said that the commission's director, Alfred Lama, gave him a letter stating that he could file the state form in place of the county form.

Lindsay said the committee will review a legal brief Schlesinger gave to a legislative clerk.

Conway's request includes all Freedom of Information Law requests and all ethics complaints made to the commission since 2006; legal analyses, memos and advisory opinions about conflicts of interest and financial disclosure forms; and a list of other county workers and officials who file the state disclosure form. It also seeks legal documents supporting the decision to allow Levy to substitute the state form.

Conway gave the commission a week to complete his request.

Levy's office Wednesday said he will draft legislation to change the county disclosure form, which he said does not comply with state law. He said the county form did not ask for some information the state form requests. As a legislator, Levy voted to require the county form, which was part of a 1988 ethics overhaul.

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