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  • Rich Klein

Doherty Retains Coffey - Same Attorney McGuire Used When He Was Recommended For Removal From Bench

Stephen R. Coffey, the same Albany-based attorney who represented County Attorney Michael McGuire one year ago when he was about to be removed as County Court judge, is now the defense attorney for Legislature Chair Rob Doherty in defense of a lawsuit filed last month by Legislator Luis Alvarez.

Coffey last week filed an answer to the lawsuit by Alvarez, which is how The SullivanTimes learned about the representation. (See page from lawsuit below)

It's unknown at press time if McGuire had recommended Coffey. On Tuesday morning, April 6, McGuire told The SullivanTimes that he does not comment on pending litigation. Coffey emailed this media outlet and stated: "I am defending Mr. Doherty. That is my only response. "

Doherty was served with the lawsuit at his Smallwood (Town of Bethel) home on March 13, two days after Alvarez filed the suit in State Supreme Court/ Sullivan County.

The suit alleges that Doherty defamed Alvarez for continually saying in person and online that the immediate past chair of the Legislature had used the "c" word and directed it at Stephanie Brown, the County's commissioner of Health & Family Services, in October 2020. Brown abruptly resigned earlier this year. Alvarez said he never used that word.

In fact, John Kiefer, the chair of the Sullivan County Board of Ethics later told the public at a meeting of the Legislature that the use of that word never came up at all in its investigation of the complaint against Alvarez.

"The Ethics Board did not conclude that plaintiff ever referred to any county employee as a "c" or ever directed any such comment at any county employee and no person offered any such testimony before said Board," according to the suit by Alvarez, who is being represented by Goshen attorney Michael Sussman.

Yet, Coffey, in his defense of Doherty, writes in the answer to the suit that "the alleged defamatory statements are true or substantially true" and that "Defendant had an honest belief in the truth of the facts on which Defendant based the statements and was therefore justified in making such statements." Coffey further writes in the answer to the suit that: "Plaintiffs claims are barred because he is a public figure and any statements made by the Defendant about the Plaintiff were not made with constitutional or actual malice." Coffey also argued that Doherty has both "qualified privilege" - which means he is immune from the lawsuit due to his position as chair - and is also protected by the First Amendment.

In January, Alvarez and his attorney, Michael Sussman, spoke with The SullivanTimes about their response to an ethics complaint that was filed against him with The Sullivan County Board of Ethics. The complaint arose, in part, after Alvarez had expressed anger towards Brown (with Deputy County Manager John Liddle present) after the former chair of the Legislature learned that his wife was taken to Garnet Health Catskills from the Adult Care Center without him being notified.

As for the possibility that McGuire referred Doherty to Coffey, his own personal attorney, a legal issue might arise over whether McGuire crossed an ethical line since Alvarez has sued Doherty personally and not the County.

Coffey represented McGuire before he was suspended from his County Court judge position on April 13, 2020. McGuire then quietly began work as County Attorney in May 2020 and was officially removed from the bench by the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, last August.

Even after the State Commission on Judicial Conduct report in March 2020, Doherty and County Legislature Vice Chair Mike Brooks stood by their appointment of McGuire as County Attorney, even though the Commission had overwhelming evidence that McGuire had violated the public trust.

"Given the seriousness and breadth of respondent’s misconduct as well as his lack of candor, we believe that respondent should be removed from the bench," the Commission wrote in its report signed on March 18, 2020.



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