MONTICELLO - Sullivan County Attorney Michael McGuire is refusing to divulge how much money taxpayers are spending to defend a defamation lawsuit filed by Legislator Luis Alvarez against Legislature Chair Robert Doherty. And the state's Committee on Open Government says McGuire is likely violating the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).
"All materials related to pending litigation are held as confidential documents until the litigation is complete," McGuire wrote in an email response to The SullivanTimes on Thursday. "Thereafter some of the documents will become public and others will remain sealed as privileged. Your request is not yet ripe as the documents / information requested is part of the litigation that is pending. Thank you for your continued interest in the County."
The SullivanTimes this week appealed the County's initial rejection of a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request seeking a copy of an invoice that showed the payment to Albany law firm O'Connor & Aronowitz. The initial request also asked for a copy of the County's retainer agreement. There was never a resolution brought before the County Legislature authorizing a payment to the law firm.
Kristin O’Neill, assistant director of the Committee on Open Government of New York State told The SullivanTimes on Thursday that the County has no legal grounds to withhold the invoice information and suggested that the County Attorney could easily redact any privileged information.
An advisory opinion from the Committee deals with the same issue and was issued in 1999 and another was issued in 2002. Both are contrary to McGuire's assertion and cite New York Court of Appeals and federal court decisions on the issue of legal invoices paid by public agencies.
The Alvarez vs Doherty lawsuit was filed one month ago in State Supreme Court / Sullivan County by Goshen attorney Michael Sussman and is a public document.
As reported exclusively by this media outlet, Doherty is being represented by Stephen Coffey, a shareholder in the firm and the same attorney who represented McGuire when the disgraced former judge fought a losing battle with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The Commission recommended that he be removed from the bench in 2020 but Doherty still appointed him to be County Attorney one year ago. The New York Court of Appeals made McGuire's removal from the bench final in August 2020.