While it’s been more than a month since the Putnam County Legislature voted to take $125,000 from county coffers to help settle the Adam Levy vs. Don Smith lawsuit, lawmakers once again defended the decision last week.
The county Legislature issued a five- paragraph statement in response to inquiries and comments made by county residents about the controversial vote. During a special meeting in June, eight lawmakers in attendance unanimously approved $125,000 of taxpayer money to be paid to Levy, the former district attorney, who sued Sheriff Smith for defamation. The lawsuit, originally for $5 million, alleged Smith defamed Levy by falsely accusing him of interfering in a rape case of his former trainer. Smith, as part of the settlement, agreed to pay $25,000 from his own pocket and issued a public retraction letter admitting he provided untruths publicly about Levy.
The press release was a unanimous decision by all nine lawmakers, Chairwoman Ginny Nacerino told The Putnam Examiner.
According to the press release, the legislature said after the trial got underway, county attorney Jennifer Bumgarner, legislative counsel Robert Firriolo, trial counsel for NYMIR and NYMIR’s claims counsel all recommended the settlement to avoid the possibility of an adverse verdict and avoid additional legal fees and costs.
“The Legislature considered the facts and circumstances of the case, as well as the advice of counsel, and determined that the settlement served the best interests of Putnam County Taxpayers,” the press release stated. “And avoid potentially greater exposure to liability.”
Lawmakers at the June 22 special meeting stressed while they were unhappy to fork over any money in the legal matter between Levy and Smith, it made the most sense financially. Some of them were critical of Smith during the meeting, who has served as sheriff since 2002 and is running for a fifth term this year.
The legislature, in the press release, also reiterated that it does not have the legal grounds to remove the sheriff from office and only Governor Andrew Cuomo could wield that power.
“At the November Election the Residents of Putnam County will have the opportunity to vote their position,” the legislature concluded.
Smith, through a spokesman, said in matters of litigation, he has come to rely on and trust the advice of county legal counsel including outcomes best for the taxpayers. He said as a part of Putnam County government for the past 18 years (two as deputy county executive) he has always strived to be a “team player.”
“Even in cases in which I may prefer to go to trial, I know that the costs and uncertainties of litigation will often result in a settlement to avoid the chance of an adverse verdict,” Smith said.
Smith will face Democrat and former sheriff investigator Robert Langley in November and could still face a primary challenge from Republican Andrew DeStefano if he is able to get back on the ballot through the court system.
“Over the past 15 and a half years that I have been Sheriff, the outstanding men and women who serve in the Sheriff’s Office have helped keep Putnam County one of the safest places in America to live, work and raise a family, and we remain committed to carrying on in our mission to keep the County a great and safe place,” Smith stated.
Langley, in a press release he sent out Monday, blasted the payout in the defamation case.
“As a law enforcement officer in Putnam County for 23 years, I’m outraged by this incredible waste of taxpayer money,” Langley stated. “Putnam County residents should not tolerate reckless, unethical and illegal acts that waste our tax dollars.”