Top Westchester prosecutors lose sick pay request

A state judge has rejected a request by 15 career prosecutors in the Westchester District Attorney’s Office to stop a sick-pay cash-out cap while their lawsuit against Westchester County officials moves forward.

The prosecutors sued the county in last year after officials capped the amount of sick time they can cash in when leaving their jobs. The attorneys claimed the county violated their constitutional rights and “breached the parties’ employment relationship” by changing the policy retroactively, after they had already earned the time.

State Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Colabella turned down their request for a preliminary injunction, which sought to keep the former status quo.

“(P)laintiffs have failed to demonstrate irreparable injury in the absence of injunctive relief or that the balancing of the equities favor such relief,” he wrote in his decision last week.

Mamaroneck lawyer Leonard Violi, who is representing the 15 prosecutors, said today that his clients do not know if they want to appeal Colabella’s decision. Whether they do or don’t, he said, the lawsuit against the county will proceed.

“The next step is full-blown litigation,” he said. “It will probably be fast tracked. The facts are crystal clear.”

The prosecutors filed suit June 23 in state Supreme Court. The plaintiffs include the top three prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office: First Deputy District Attorneys James McCarty Jr., Maryanne Luciano and John George, who had threatened to quit over the changes, but did not.

Other prosecutors in the suit, all of whom have more than 20 years in the office, are Steven Bender, Mark Garretto, Fredric Green, Edward Livingston, Patrick Moore, Patricia Murphy, John O’Rourke, Perry Perrone, Robert Prisco, Robert Sauer, Steven Vandervelden and Timothy Ward.

This lawsuit was the latest salvo in a battle between lawmakers and workers in the District Attorney’s Office, after County Executive Rob Astorino pushed for changes to benefits and accumulated time.

Earlier this year, the county executive proposed — and the Board of Legislators in May approved — a cap on sick and vacation payouts and a voluntary buyout incentive worth $1,000 a year up to $30,000. The cap in payouts translates into tens of thousands of dollars for a seasoned prosecutor.

The cap was coupled with another law that required nonunion managers to pay between 10 percent and 20 percent of their health insurance premiums, based on salary. The actions were to address a large budget deficit and control spiraling costs.

Soon after, several top prosecutors threatened to leave after the county required nonunion managers, including prosecutors, to help pay for their health benefits. Four prosecutors and seven support staff members took the buyout in July.

Read more of this story tomorrow in The Journal News and on LoHud.com.

Family Justice Center opens in White Plains

Starting today, victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in Westchester County will have a centralized place to get legal advice, counseling, shelter, child care and other services — all for free.

The county’s Office for Women opened its highly-touted Family Justice Center this afternoon in the “low-rise” building in the Westchester County Courthouse. With a $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, the justice center replaces the intake unit in Family Court with a “one-stop shop” for victims’ needs. By merging such services under one roof, victims no longer will have to bounce from agency to agency repeating their story of abuse.

The family justice center will have victim advocates — including those who are bilingual — who specialize in stalking, elder abuse, disabled victims and immigration. The Pace Women’s Justice Center, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, Empire Justice Center, My Sisters’ Place, Hope’s Door, Victims Assistance Services and the Department of Social Services will have staff on-site, along with volunteers from the Interfaith Caring Community of Greenburgh.

District Attorney Janet DiFiore said putting these services under one roof — a concept she has championed since 2006 — will make it easier for victims afraid to report abuse. She said the center will help prosecutors “protect victims and give them the support, services and guidance necessary to assist them in the criminal justice process.”

The center will be open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Victims will be seen by appointment only and should call 914-995-3100 to make an appointment.  Eventually the center will take walk-ins. Retired Ossining town police chief Kenneth Donato is the center’s director.

Photo: Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, left, and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Family Justice Center. Photo courtesy of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.

Could healthcare costs wipe out Westchester’s senior DAs?

photo_courtroom_smInteresting story by my colleague Gerald McKinstry today … Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore said if the county requires a 15% payment of healthcare costs, her top assistant district attorneys would retire en masse and collect a full pension in retirement.

To read the full story, click here.

What do you think? Is DiFiore bluffing to protect her people or could the county lose some really good prosecutors if County Executive Rob Astorino makes them kick in for healthcare costs? Should it matter? Feel free to share your thoughts below.