Editorial: A good time to be a lawyer in Nassau County

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Editorial: A good time to be a lawyer in Nassau County

On the bright side, this is a good time to be a lawyer in Nassau County.

At least if you work for Nassau’s three towns and the county government. Or do work for them.

Taxpayers, who will have to foot the bills for these lawyers, may not be so happy with the sheer volume of litigation brought in recent months by or against Nassau County and the towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay.

It is true that there are legitimate reasons for governments to sue or be sued in the course of doing business.

But there seem to be more than several instances in which legal actions were the result of poor policies or just plain politics.

One instance is Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman's controversial sports ban on transgender women and girls, which barred them from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity at about 100 county-run facilities.

A state judge on Friday evening struck down Nassau’s ban, finding that Blakeman had acted beyond his authority in enacting the executive order.

In issuing the ban in February, Blakeman had cited concerns about transgender women gaining an unfair advantage in athletic competitions but failed to name a single instance of that happening in Nassau County. This was noted in the judge’s decision

Democrats said the transgender ban was cruel and potentially dangerous to transgender youth, who report alarmingly high rates of depression. But some Republicans appeared to see transgender sports bans as a winning political issue.

The Republican County executive said last week he is not ready to give up after the state judge struck down the transgender ban - even while criticizing New York’s courts in a manner similar to that of a certain Republican presidential candidate.

The decision, Blakeman said in a statement, displayed a “lack of courage from a judge who didn’t want to decide the case on its merits.”

“Nassau County will appeal without much faith in the Appellate Division applying the law without far left doctrine being used to undermine women’s sports,” he said of the state court's decision.

Blakeman had earlier unsuccessfully sued state Attorney General Letitia James in federal court after she issued a statement urging the county to rescind its ban, which she described as “transphobic and blatantly illegal.”

A federal judge wrote in April that she found the county’s claims based on the equal protection rights of women and girls to be “unpersuasive” and ruled against the county's effort to prevent James from filing a court challenge.

Last week, county Legislature Democrats also blasted their Republican counterparts for approving a $750,000 contract with a special counsel to defend Nassau in several lawsuits challenging a wide range of fees that have been used by the county to avoid raising taxes.

The fees include a $150 charge for red-light violations – despite a state law limiting the fine to $50 – and fees related to property liens.

In March 2020, a Nassau State Supreme Court justice wrote that a $355 tax map verification fee was an “unlawful and unconstitutional tax” on Nassau County deed filers.

In April 2023, a four-justice panel of the State Supreme Court's Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, unanimously affirmed the lower court's ruling.

“The fees imposed ... were excessive and improper, as they were exacted for general revenue purposes and not tied to the county’s obligation to maintain its property registry,” the court ruled.

Blakeman filed an emergency order at the time asking the Legislature to reduce the fee to $270, which was approved in a party-line vote.

Democrats have pushed unsuccessfully to kill the fee.

The county is also embroiled in litigation with Hofstra University over a 99-year lease agreement with Nassau that would permit Las Vegas Sands to develop a $4 billion casino and entertainment project at the site of the Nassau Coliseum property in Uniondale.

In April 2023, Hofstra sued Nassau, claiming that the county violated the state's open meetings and environmental laws and that Nassau County and Sands did not follow proper protocol in their approval process.

In November 2023, a state judge invalidated Nassau County's approval of a 99-year lease agreement for the project. In February 2024, another judge ruled that Sands lacks a valid lease for the Coliseum and its surrounding land.

Nassau announced in April it will rework the lease agreement in the face of opposition by Hofstra.

A month ago Blakeman continued with his legal efforts, filing a lawsuit against Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state, challenging a new law that moves most local elections to even-numbered years, beginning in 2026.

Under a bill that Hochul, a Democrat, signed into law in December, most town and county elections in New York will move from odd to even years. Races for governor, president, and Congress are held in even years.

The lawsuit by Blakeman, a Republican, and the GOP-controlled Nassau County Legislature argues that the state violated its constitution in enacting the new law and seeks to block it from taking effect.

The county lawsuit dovetails with a campaign against the law by Republicans statewide who argue that voters will ignore local issues when county and town elections occur with federal and state contests.

Democrats say local elections should coincide with gubernatorial and presidential contests when turnout is highest. Democrats historically have better turnout during gubernatorial and, particularly, presidential years.

The three towns—North Hempstead, Hempstead, and Oyster Bay—are Republican-controlled and have recently joined the county in the lawsuit.

Last week, Town of North Hempstead residents overwhelmingly spoke out against the litigation, which they called a political move, a mishandling of taxpayers’ money, and a sacrifice of democratic processes for partisanship.

“It is inconceivable to me that there could be some members of this board, as well as our supervisor, who support such a frivolous and costly agenda item when it is your primary responsibility to protect the hardworking, middle-class families that call North Hempstead home,” resident Scott Wolff said.

Wolff has a point, but the measure passed along party lines.

We would be more sympathetic to the Republicans’ call for a greater focus on local elections if so many of their candidates didn’t avoid interviews about the position they were running for with papers like ours.

But the towns are not just following the leads of Blakeman and Nassau County.

The Town of Hempstead filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in an effort to halt the MTA’s incoming New York City congestion pricing model, making Hempstead the first Long Island town to initiate legal action against the plan.

MTA officials said congestion pricing is set to hit commuters on June 30. Car drivers can expect a $15 charge to enter Manhattan at 61st Street and below, truck drivers can expect a $24 to $36 charge depending on their vehicle size, and motorcycle drivers can expect a $7.50 charge.

The program is intended to reduce traffic and improve air quality in New York City, as well as generate revenue for the MTA.

Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin, who called the plan a “money grab” by the MTA that would not improve services, said the town had hired attorneys “to seek an injunction to stop this program.”

But Clavin’s criticism contradicts his and other Republican town supervisors' frequent demand for local control when the state has sought to to increase housing in Nassau County to address New York’s housing crisis.

What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.

The Town of North Hempstead also signaled in February that it would not take action to avoid a legal fight when Republican councilmembers rejected expansion plans for the Hillside Islamic Center in New Hyde Park.

Religious institutions are protected in building houses of worship by a federal law passed by Congress after a pattern of discrimination was found in applications by minority religions.

But this did not dissuade town Republicans

“Sometimes the Town Board has to turn around and say ‘you know what? We’re going to get sued over it and we’re going to get brought into court, I’m going to stick up for my constituents first,’” said Republican Councilmember Ed Scott at the time.

North Hempstead also hired an outside law firm after the Islamic center filed a lawsuit against the town.

Is this the best use of taxpayer money? We don't think so.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Steven, you brought out very important examples to show how ludicrous and wasteful local government is, and with taxpayers’ money. We as constituents have to put in bills that would change the law to enable residents to legally sue local officials personally, when they overstep the boundaries of their position as an elected official. Also, this would help to stop politicians from using their position for financial gain, and encourage the best candidates to run.

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