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Taxpayers Steamed over Lawyers on Payroll

New York lawyer William Glass is currently on the payrolls as an employee of seven Long Island fire districts, earning more than $500,000 in salary since 2002, along with pension, health and dental benefits. But he has no office in any of the districts and maintains a private practice through which he performs work for these same districts on a retainer basis, as he does for some 20 other fire districts. In one of those districts, Gordon Heights, Long Island's most expensive fire district, taxpayers are hot under the collar over the arrangement. But Glass and other lawyers with similar sweet deals say the arrangements are entirely legal and appropriate.

As Newsday reported yesterday, when Gordon Heights taxpayers discovered lawyer Glass on their fire district's payroll last year, they contacted a variety of public officials, demanding that something be done. Nothing was. What they did not know then was that Glass was on six other payrolls. One civic activist told Newsday that it was bad enough to be paying the highest fire taxes on Long Island, "but it only adds insult to injury to now learn that we are paying public pensions for private attorneys."

Newsday's report finds that at least 14 special districts and one public authority currently have private attorneys on their payrolls as public employees. Since 2002, nine attorneys have earned more than $2 million from the districts in salaries and contract fees. The lawyers say they do not see why everyone is so burned up.

Glass, and other lawyers interviewed for this story, argue that their arrangements are permissible under the law. One of the nine attorneys interviewed for this story, Frank D'Elia, who has been on the payrolls of two water districts and one sewer district at the same time, said, 'I'm 72 years old. I'm not going to lose my mind over something that was perfectly acceptable years ago.'

Glass also said he has done nothing improper. 'In my opinion, it's a matter of form over substance,' he said. He noted that he sought the arrangement in some cases to get the pension credits, adding that he does not see anything wrong with that.

What do you think? Is it OK for a lawyer to be on multiple public payrolls while also billing those entities as a private practitioner? Share your thoughts below.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on July 28, 2008 at 12:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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