Was $25,000 spent on "political witch hunt"?

Posted at 6:43 PM, Jun 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-18 08:34:28-04

A political fight centering around $25,000 in legal fees County Attorney Michael Siragusa built up between two outside law firms has been going on for months.

Siragusa had the law firms look into the legality of GOP Majority Leader Joe Lorigo holding two government positions at the same time. Lorigo says it was part of a "political witch hunt" orchestrated by Erie County Execuvite Mark Poloncarz.

Lorigo was first elected to the county Legislature in 2011. In 2015 he was appointed by the West Seneca Town Council as the town's prosecutor. Similar positions have been held simultaneously in the past by members of the legislature. Ron Bennett, who is currently Counsel for the Majority in the Legislature, was a town prosecutor when he served on the Legislature back in the 1970s.

But when Siragusa found out about Lorigo being appointed to town prosecutor back in January, he had Kavinoky Cook LLC look into the legality of holding those two positions. Kavinocky Cook LLC is the former employer of Democratic County Executive Mark Poloncarz. He also brought in Hodgson Russ LLP for a second opinion.

Both law firms delivered opinions that Lorigo could not hold his two positions simultaneously.

Lorigo paid out of pocket to have another law firm take a look at his situation. Phillips Lytle LLP argued he was legally allowed to keep both jobs. The majority leader still decided to give up his position as prosecutor of the Town of West Seneca.

The county Legislature held an informational hearing today to learn more about the legal fees accrued by the County Attorney.  Members of the GOP majority questioned Siragusa for more than an hour and were left with little new information to take away.  They were looking to learn if the spending was appropriate, necessary and whether it was a "possible abuse of authority."

"In my judgment, hearing everything, we didn't get beyond the letters you and I have been sending back and forth," Chairman John Mills said to Siragusa.

Siragusa maintains the County Executive did not order or request him to open this investigation.

"Bottom line is it's my job to send work to outside counsel, what matters to look into directly and the buck stops with me," Siragusa said.

After the hearing, both Lorigo and Mills expressed doubt that Executive Poloncarz had nothing to do with the investigation. They explained that there is a strong distrust between the GOP majority and the County Attorney.

"It seems to me that the County Executive is the one that directed this investigation," Lorigo said.

"The consensus in that chamber was [Siragusa] is not believable. There is something else going on," Mills explained.

Siragusa did say he is willing to release any emails he has regarding this investigation, so long as it won't violate attorney-client privilege. But the County Attorney warned he might not have any recorded communication between his office and the two law firms.

The County Attorney is hopeful the two parties will be able to work out their differences going forward.

"It's all part of the business," he said. "It's unfortunate that we run through these situations, but I think over time we'll be able to move forward."