Michael Sordi’s resignation as Southampton Town attorney on Friday might have seemed sudden, but Town Board members revealed this week that they had been discussing parting ways with him as far back as late last year, and had even been negotiating a settlement to hasten his departure.
His resignation was expedited, however, after a town resident, at a Town Board meeting last Tuesday, brought to light Mr. Sordi’s failure to file a timely response to a federal lawsuit—a move that could force the town to pay a default judgment of $70 million to East Quogue resident Nancy Genovese.
In her lawsuit, Ms. Genovese claims she was wrongfully arrested and detained after being caught snapping pictures of a helicopter in front of the Air National Guard base in Westhampton two years ago. Her attorney, Frederick K. Brewington, asked the court for a default judgment because the town failed to respond to the suit by a set deadline, and for his client to be awarded the full $70 million. Mr. Sordi stated in a court document that his belated response was due to both his mother and nephew dying within a week of each other, leaving him distracted and under the impression that the response had, in fact, been filed
It was not the first time Mr. Sordi had missed a deadline as the Southampton Town attorney. In an interview on Monday, Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said Mr. Sordi also failed to file a timely response to another lawsuit, which she described as the “Moore case.” Southampton resident Duane Moore, a Level 3 registered sex offender, is suing the town, Suffolk County and Southampton Village officials, charging that county and town laws governing residential restrictions against sex offenders “effectively banished” Mr. Moore from living within the town and county.
Mr. Sordi missed a deadline to file an answer to a motion in that case, Ms. Throne-Holst said, but she noted that the delay was resolved, the appropriate paperwork has been filed, and the case is proceeding.
Numerous attempts to contact Mr. Sordi this week were unsuccessful.
The missed deadlines in the town cases are not the first time Mr. Sordi’s work has been criticized.
Before Mr. Sordi was appointed to the town position, he was employed by Nassau County. In the last few months of his employment, prior to being terminated in December 2009 alongside a host of Democratic appointees when Republican County Executive Ed Mangano took office, he was the lead attorney in a high-profile federal case involving allegations of excessive force by a Nassau County police officer. The county lost the case, and a jury awarded the plaintiff nearly $20 million in damages; the county later settled the judgment for an undisclosed lesser sum. Mr. Sordi was assigned to the case before he was let go by the county.
According to a transcript of a July 12, 2010 meeting of the Nassau County Legislature’s Rules Committee, Republican County Attorney John Ciampoli claimed that Mr. Sordi, as the lead council on the case, did not complete any preparatory work for several pretrial motions that needed to be filed. He also documented a timeline of deadlines that the county missed.
Reached on Tuesday, Mr. Ciampoli said: “I would characterize this case as having been grossly mismanaged and mishandled by my predecessors in virtually every way that I could imagine.”
Nassau County Legislator Diane Yatauro relayed Mr. Sordi’s side of the story in the transcript, noting that he was informed in the middle of preparing for the case that he was going to be terminated, and also that he was not given a reason. Mr. Ciampoli never directly contacted him, she noted. Also, according to his account by Ms. Yatauro, Mr. Sordi could not file a pretrial motion without further direction from the incoming attorney. She also posed the question as to why Mr. Ciampoli would choose to fire an attorney while transitioning on “something as big as this.”
Ms. Throne-Holst this week said town officials were aware of the Nassau County matter when Mr. Sordi was hired, and she defended his actions in the case, suggesting that he should not be linked to a case he never tried. “Those were not his deadlines that were missed … To attach his name to the fact that the county lost that—he never tried that case,” she said.
Visibly uncomfortable discussing the circumstances that led to Mr. Sordi’s resignation as town attorney, Ms. Throne-Holst described the move as a “sensitive situation.” Ultimately, she said Mr. Sordi and the town mutually “decided to part ways” even before the issues with the Genovese case and the missed deadline came to light. She skirted around the specifics of the situation, simply noting that “the time was right” and that it had happened for “a variety of reasons.”