MONTICELLO - State Supreme Court Justice Stephan Schick on Tuesday recused himself from a libel case involving Sullivan County Legislature Chair Rob Doherty, who was sued in March by Legislator Luis Alvarez, the immediate past chair of the body.
Schick wrote that he believes the case should be heard by a judge from outside Sullivan County "This action involves two local legislators , one of whom is on the Jury Board (Doherty), which meets in my Chambers. To avoid charges of local bias, this action should be heard by a non-local judge." (In April 2020, a resolution was passed by the Legislature appointing Doherty to the Board of Jurors).
It's unclear why Schick waited until now to recuse as both the complaint by Alvarez and answer by Doherty's outside attorney were filed as of April 1, 2021.
Alvarez, represented by Goshen attorney Michael Sussman, alleged in the suit that Doherty committed libel against Alvarez when he published on a Facebook post the there were "founded complaints" that Alvarez had used the "c" word towards former Health & Family Services Commissioner Stephanie Brown. The Ethics Board, which investigated the complaint, found that Alvarez never used the word and reiterated that publicly.
Ironically, Doherty allegedly used the same "c" word directed at the Town of Liberty Assessor, Vanessa Kelder, at the start of a Town of Liberty Board of Assessors meeting on November 2.
Doherty, who was accompanied to that meeting by County Attorney Michael McGuire, were both reportedly furious that the Town of Liberty is seeking to recoup $226,000 from the Sunset Lake Local Development Corporation, which has owned the Adult Care Center (ACC) since December 2020 and is operating the Center as an infirmary. That designation, according to the Town of Liberty code, makes the LDC liable for the $226,000 in taxes.
(The LDC was created by the Legislature in July 2020 to begin the transfer of the Care Center out of County hands. The original intention, though, was to do an outright sale of the ACC. For the many years that the County owned the ACC, though, it was exempt from taxes to be paid to the Town of Liberty).
Assistant County Manager Michelle Huck accompanied Doherty and McGuire to that meeting along with another assistant county attorney. Huck has since resigned as a member of the LDC after the feud went public.
On Thursday, Town of Liberty Supervisor Frank DeMayo implied to the County Legislature that there is video evidence of Doherty and McGuire's aggressive and disrespectful behavior towards his assessor. He called on them to apologize to Kelder and other employees who witnessed the incident and for the Legislature to show leadership by investigating what happened.
So far, there has been no apology and no investigation launched. Legislator Alan Sorensen, who has been a reliable vote for Doherty, said there should be a third-party investigation into what happened on November 2.
Meanwhile, The SullivanTimes on November 12 made a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the County to determine if there were “any and all emails exchanged between Lowell Feldman, in his capacity as chair of the LDC, with Legislature Chair Rob Doherty and/or County Attorney Michael McGuire from October 1, 2021 through November 12, 2021."
Rosemarie Savaglio wrote back Friday:
"I have been in contact with the appropriate department(s) to have your request reviewed and I have been advised that there are no records responsive to your request."