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OC Legislature Alots $50k Legal Defense Re StarCIO Issue of Dems Press Conference



Goshen - On Thursday afternoon the Orange County Legislature voted to allocate $50,000 to hire an outside attorney to defend Legislative Chairwoman Katherine Bonelli’s decision not to provide legal defense to four of her fellow legislators who may face a potential lawsuit arising from their raising questions about the StarCIO contract for information technology services.


Last October, legislators Michael Paduch, the Democratic minority leader, Genesis Ramos, Laurie Tautel, and Mike Anagnostakis participated in a news conference led by Senator James Skoufis (D, Cornwall) that raised questions about the propriety of a contract given to the owner of StarCIO for information technology services.  The owner of the company is the brother-in-law of County Human Resources Commissioner Langdon Chapman.


Following the news conference StarCIO’s attorney, Benjamin Allee of Vankwitt, LLP in White Plains sent the legislators a letter that indicated the company is considering filing a lawsuit for what it alleges were false and defamatory comments.


In February, the Democratic lawmakers who questioned the contract were notified by Bonelli that they would not be indemnified if StarCIO files a lawsuit because she believed the comments made at the news conference were political in nature and were not made by the legislators while acting in their official capacity.


In response to the denial for legal representation, the four legislators privately hired Goshen Attorney Michael Sussman.  Sussman filed an Article 78 motion on behalf of his clients and is petitioning the court to overturn Bonelli’s decision and indemnify the legislators.


The resolution, adopted on Thursday, which was a late addition and was not included on the public agenda, will give Bonelli the power to hire outside counsel of her choosing to oppose Sussman’s effort.  The resolution, which was introduced by Majority Leader Tom Faggione, passed with support from all Republican members as well as a single Democrat, Kevindaryán Luján of Newburgh. There was no discussion on the vote from legislators, the resolution’s sponsor, or the chairwoman.


In response to the October news conference, Bonelli expressed concern about the information technology contract which grew from a two-month $65,000 agreement to a year-long engagement of more than $800,000 and convened a special legislative task force to look into the county’s technology contracts.  The final report of the task force, which was filed by the legislature at Thursday’s meeting, found that the contract was procured in violation of the county’s policy, but held that nothing illegal had taken place.  The FBI has also launched its own investigation into the matter, however, has not yet made its findings public.


For his part, Senator Skoufis believes the resolution is an act of retaliation on the members of the legislature who brought the contract problem to light.

“To suggest the legislators weren’t acting within their official roles at the October 25 press conference – outside the county government building, exposing wrongdoing in a county contract, and being introduced as county legislators – is as stupid an argument as they come,” he said.  “Stunningly, even in the face of an FBI criminal investigation, Katie Bonelli chose to side with corruption – all as payback against those legislators who exposed some of her political allies for the hacks they are.  The only thing making her decision even more shameful is that taxpayers must now foot the bill for her retribution.”

A State Supreme Court Judge is set to hear arguments from Sussman and the special counsel to be selected by Bonelli on March 22nd.

Source: Mid-Hudson News

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