March 16, 2012

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Ulster legislative leadership locks horns over legal counsel


KINGSTON – Ulster County Legislature Minority Leader David Donaldson Friday accused Chairwoman Terry Bernardo of “sneaking” through a $49,750 contract with the law firm for which her appointed legislature attorney works by paying the firm, Bonacic, Krahulik, Cuddeback, McMahan and Brady, LLP of Orange County.

Donaldson noted any contract under $50,000 does not need legislative approval and he charged Bernardo effectively skirted that provision by offering compensation just under that. But, Bernardo said the contract is lower than the threshold amount because it is pro-rated since Chapman wasn’t appointed until early January. Nevertheless, she said she will ask county lawmakers to approve the arrangement.

Bernardo said Chapman is “one of the best known legislative and municipal law attorneys in the region” and has represented municipalities and their officials in court cases in a number of area counties.

The minority leader also asked Chapman to reveal any potential conflicts of interest as legislative counsel since he is also counsel to Senator John Bonacic and to the Senate’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering of which Bonacic is chairman.

Donaldson said that Bonacic has commented that getting Sullivan County a casino is his “number one priority.” Communities in Ulster County, most notably Ellenville, have expressed interest in obtaining casinos. The new owners of the Nevele Hotel are hoping to include gaming as part of their redevelopment plan.

Donaldson also said the Bonacic law firm has also rendered legal advice or has represented Bernardo and her family.

“It is my understanding that attorneys are required to fully disclose the nature of potential conflicts of interest before engaging in the representation of a potential client,” Donaldson wrote in a letter to Chapman dated Friday. “Based upon the foregoing, I kindly ask that you disclose to the legislative body whether either your current appointment as counsel to the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, or your prior representation of the present chairman of the legislature and her family, conflicts, or, at the very least, appears to conflict, with your ability to serve as legislative counsel to the Ulster County Legislature.”

Donaldson also questioned why Chapman would not be paid directly for his services to Ulster County, but law firm managing partner Scott Bonacic said since Chapman works for them, they pay all of his related employment costs. “Why any legislator thinks the county is better off bearing those costs, when our firm does so already, makes no sense,” said Bonacic.

Chapman, meanwhile, wrote back to Donaldson, saying he has no role in casino license issuance, if the state constitution is changed, and has no expectation of having a role.

As for Donaldson’s allegation that he has rendered legal advice to Bernardo and her family, Chapman denied it, but said as legislature counsel, he “absolutely” offers legal advice to her “on a regular basis.”

Chapman said that people are “sick and tired of politics” and that they want their government officials “to address issues such as economic development, lower taxes and a higher quality of life in our region.”


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