The Town of Southampton has failed to timely file an answer to the Nancy Genovese lawsuit, (updates here), possibly leaving the taxpayers of the town on the hook for $70 million dollars. A motion for a default judgment has been filed against the Town of Southampton and Town of Southampton Police Officer Robert Iberger, and we are awaiting a decision by the court.
So what happened, and how could the town fail to defend itself against such a large lawsuit?
Michael C. Sordi, the Town Attorney for the Town of Southampton, represents both the town and defendant Robert Iberger, a Town of Southampton Police Officer. He is the attorney responsible for defending both the town and the Southampton Police, but as a result of personal issues, he inadvertently “forgot” to serve an answer. Sordi states in court documents that he telephoned counsel for the Plaintiff the day before his answer was due, advising that his mother was in extremis, and that the doctors treating her had suggested that her death was imminent. He was granted a verbal two week extension, but did not follow up in writing, as he was en route to his mother’s bedside.
A week later, the Town Attorney’s mother passed away. One week later, the Town Attorney’s 25 year old nephew died suddenly and unexpectedly. Michael Sordi states that over the course of these weeks he was in and out of his office tending to family business and grieving the loss of his family members, and that he quite frankly “forgot” that he had not served an answer in this case. He states “I simply got ‘caught up’ in my personal events and I thought, erroneously, that I had actually served the Answer, when in fact I had forgotten to upon my return to work.”
This has not been the first time that the Town Attorney has missed a deadline. Last year, he failed to timely file a response to a lawsuit against the town by a level 3 sex offender, putting the town at risk for an excessive judgment. Luckily, the delay in that case was positively resolved for the town.
Before Michael Sordi was appointed as the Town Attorney for the Town of Southampton, he was the lead attorney in Nassau County in a high profile federal case involving excessive force by a Nassau County police officer. The county lost the case, and the jury awarded the plaintiff nearly $20 million dollars. Michael Sordi was fired by Nassau County shortly thereafter in December 2009. Republican County Attorney John Ciampoli clamed Mr. Sordi, as the lead council on the case, did not complete any prepatory work for several pretrial motions that needed to be filed. He stated “I would characterize that case as having been grossly mismanaged and mishandled by my predecessors in virtually every way that I could imagine.”
Although town officials were aware of the Nassau County mess, they hired Mr. Sordi anyway. Last Friday, Michael C. Sordi, the Town Attorney for the Town of Southampton, was asked to submit his resignation. As part of his parting package, he will receive one month’s salary (his annual salary was $115,000), compensation for unused vacation and sick days, and the town will pay for his health insurance coverage through May 2011. Mr. Sordi also had the town sign an agreement that the town will “fully, forever, irrevocably and unconditionally” release him from any liability in claims or lawsuits brought against the town.
No word yet on if the taxpayers of the Town of Southampton will be on the hook for the $70 million dollar default judgment.
UPDATE: Nancy’s motion for a default judgment was denied by Judge Bianco on 2/25/11.