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Mar 2, 2011 11:13 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Request For $70 Million Default Judgment Against Town Dismissed

Mar 2, 2011 11:13 AM

Southampton Town will not have to pay a default judgment of $70 million for missing a deadline to respond to a federal lawsuit late last year.

Federal Court Judge Joseph F. Bianco on February 25 denied a motion seeking a default judgment filed by attorney Frederick K. Brewington, who represents East Quogue resident Nancy Genovese, after former Town Attorney Michael Sordi failed to respond to the lawsuit, which was served in August. Ms. Genovese, who was arrested at the Air National Guard base in Westhampton in June 2009 after she was found taking photographs at the entrance, is suing Southampton Town for $70 million in damages charging she was wrongfully arrested and detained there.

Mr. Sordi, who was the lead attorney on the case, failed to file a timely response to the suit by October 30. Mr. Sordi has indicated in court documents that two of his family members—his mother and his 25-year-old nephew—died within a week of one another around the time the response was due. He also stated that he thought he had filed the response.

Mr. Sordi resigned from his post last month shortly after the issue came to light. Tiffany Scarlato, a Sag Harbor resident and former East Hampton deputy town attorney, has since been appointed to the position.

Mr. Brewington did not return calls seeking comment this week.

Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the decision was what the town anticipated. “I think it was certainly the decision we expected, and it’s certainly good news,” she said.

Eruv Lawsuit

The Southampton Town Board will hold a special meeting on Friday to consider retaining outside counsel to defend the town in two lawsuits relating to the establishment of a controversial Jewish religious boundary in Westhampton Beach and Quogue villages known as an eruv.

The special meeting, to be held tomorrow, Friday, March 4, was publicized in a notice e-mailed late Tuesday afternoon by Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst’s office. It will be held at 12:30 p.m., following a work session scheduled for 9:30 a.m.

The town is pressed for time on the case, which is why the appointment is the subject of the special meeting instead of a regular Town Board meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 8, according to Deputy Town Attorney Kathleen Murray.

“Time is of the essence,” said Ms. Murray. ”We want to get the case assigned to outside counsel as soon as possible.”

Ms. Murray did not have information on which outside firm will handle the case, or how much it would cost the town. Those details will be spelled out in the resolution at Friday’s meeting, she said.

One of the federal lawsuits lists local residents and the East End Eruv Association, a non-profit group that has been pushing for the boundary since last year, as plaintiffs against Southampton Town and Westhampton Beach and Quogue villages. They are asking the municipalities to drop all objections to the boundary’s establishment.

The other suit was filed jointly by the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon, which are asking the federal court to order the municipalities to not block the installation of wooden markers, called “lechis,” which are needed to demarcate the proposed boundary.

Ms. Murray said it isn’t unusual for the town to send federal litigation to outside counsel.

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score one for sanity
By uncleronk (136), southold on Mar 2, 11 1:01 PM
Somewhere Sordi is breathing a huge sigh of relief.

But on the eruv - why is the Town scrambling to retain outside counsel? Weren't these suits filed awhile ago? Is this deja vu all over again?
By CoweeDewey (110), East Quogue on Mar 2, 11 1:46 PM
Sordi had nothing to fear - he was given a waiver of liability by the town board.
By Noah Way (450), Southampton on Mar 3, 11 1:29 PM
I don't think that was in the agreement he had with the board, but regardless, it'd be a violation of the rules of professional conduct. You can't enter a contract with your client limiting your liability for malpractice.
By ex-pat (49), East Quogue on Mar 3, 11 1:58 PM
I wonder why the Town hires an attorney "from away"? There must be some very smart lawyers right there in Southampton Town. I know why they hire outside labor help but lawyers? Sordi had a very lame excuse for not doing his job. Sordid come to mind.
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Mar 2, 11 2:52 PM
im sorry, but the death of two immediate family members back to back does not sound "lame" to me. count yourself lucky you aren't in his shoes in that respect.
By tm (174), mtk on Mar 2, 11 4:35 PM
hey maybe those dudes who were stopped with a pellet gun can sue for 80 mil. or 90. why not? it's america
By littleplains (305), olde england on Mar 2, 11 3:39 PM
I don't like the law suit, but I believe in religious freedom and understand that the plaintiffs have no other recourse. It's all very sad. Some of the comments, especially by Quogue and Westhampton Beach Board member will certainly embarrass us in the international press. There is going to be a lot of coverage - it's the Hamptons!

Tenafly costs their citizens over a million dollars to defend an identical suit and they lost. Regardless of your position, precedent shows the plaintiffs have ...more
By Steven (113), Westhampton on Mar 3, 11 6:32 AM
Why is it that if you don't get things your way a law suit is filed. Reguardless of whether you win or not the only winner is the lawyer.
The first case is a matter of greed. She's taking money from her neighbors. If you think about it, Where does the money comes from, we the tax payers.
In the second case you can't allow one religious group to display a religious symbol on public prorerty and not another. All religions have to be treated equally.
By lifesaver (118), speonk on Mar 3, 11 7:39 AM
I agree with you on the first case, and I don't believe Nancy Genovese has a chance of winning.

Regarding the second case, the argument is that religious symbols are displayed all the time - often at the cost of taxpayer (St. Patrick's Day Parade(those green lines, police, and clean-up cost a lot of money), Christmas Decorations, a Nativity scene on the village green, etc.)

Ironically, the Eruv is invisible and doesn't cost the taxpayers a dime. So if you really want all religions ...more
By Steven (113), Westhampton on Mar 3, 11 9:14 AM
Weil did the Tenafly case. I briefly looked at the 3d Circuit's opinion. My takeaway is, if the towns have not been diligent in removing other signs or objects from the poles, they'll lose this case and will have to pay Weil's fees, which should easily exceed $1m.

One can only hope that whoever they bring in to handle the litigation gives the towns a straightforward assessment of the likelihood of success and potential downside if they lose. If they don't, this has the potential of ...more
By CoweeDewey (110), East Quogue on Mar 3, 11 11:40 AM
Now the town should sue Ms. Genovese and her ambulance chasers.
By razza5351 (551), East Hampton on Mar 3, 11 8:22 AM
It would have been nice to know Misters Nuzzi's and Malone's reaction to the Judges ruling on the Genovese default judgement. They seemed quite anxious about it.
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Mar 3, 11 11:43 AM
im sure they were anxious about it. until a decision comes in, im sure there is nervousness about the unknown. but my understanding is that there was next to no chance of that default motion being granted.
By tm (174), mtk on Mar 3, 11 1:14 PM
Of course the default judgment wasn't granted, it was never going to be granted, and Jim Malone and Chris Nuzzi knew that all along. There's no denying that this was a major failure by Michael Sordi, and sufficient reason for his resignation, but the hypocrisy, the sanctimony, displayed by Mr. Nuzzi and Mr. Malone at a recent Town Board meeting was revolting. Mr. Malone as a lawyer, and Mr. Nuzzi as an experienced elected official, knew from the first that the default judgment wasn't going to ...more
By fidelis (199), westhampton beach on Mar 3, 11 4:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
Failing to respond to any lawsuit, let alone a $70 million lawsuit, is a serious matter. In this case, the town was properly served, and had received more than one extension of time to respond. Under these circumstances, while unlike a default would be granted, it was certainly possible - I think the Board had every right to be outraged.
Having said that, I think their reaction to his severance package was ridiculous grandstanding - they town got off cheap on that one.
By CoweeDewey (110), East Quogue on Mar 3, 11 4:44 PM
Upon review and reflection, the Nuzzi and Malone "surprised" responses last month, seem more like "political theater" to get ATH's goat and make capital of her gaffe -- and I don't mean just her hiring of Sordi.

By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Mar 6, 11 2:11 PM
Does anyone know anything about the new town attorney that replaced Sordi?
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on Mar 6, 11 3:14 PM
She had to be nuts to think she was going to be handed over $70 million. I wonder how much of it she spent already.
By Brown25 (38), Northwest on Mar 7, 11 10:00 AM
Ha! Unless you're the Government, you can't spend what you don't have.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Mar 7, 11 1:00 PM
Good point Frank but not necessarily. You can spend what you don't have. Ever hear of credit cards? Lots of people have over extend themselves. Happens all the time. I'm not saying that she did of course. It was just a rhetorical question.
By Brown25 (38), Northwest on Mar 7, 11 8:20 PM