Should court clerk get retirement benefits after guilty plea?

02/26/2015 3:00 PM |
Southold Town labor counsel attorney Richard Zuckerman, arbitrator Bob Grey and union attorney Paul Leavitt talk after a closed-door arbitration hearing Thursday morning. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Southold Town labor counsel attorney Richard Zuckerman, arbitrator Bob Grey and union attorney Paul Leavitt talk after a closed-door arbitration hearing Thursday morning. (Credit: Paul Squire)

Hearings to decide whether a former Southold Town justice clerk — who retired last year after being arrested for stealing thousands from the town — should be able to claim retirement health benefits concluded Thursday morning, according to the town’s labor counsel.

The arbitrator in the case, Bob Grey, now has 30 days to make his recommendation to the Town Board, according to Town labor counsel Richard Zuckerman. The Town Board will then vote on the whether to accept the recommendation, which isn’t binding, Mr. Zuckerman said.

At issue is whether Christine Stulsky met the requirements needed to claim health benefits through the town’s collective bargaining agreement with the town civil service employees’ union.

Ms. Stulsky pleaded guilty to felony grand larceny charges in January, admitting that she stole money from the town justice court’s bail fund, which she helped to manage.

Through her plea deal, Ms. Stulsky will be sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation March 11. She also agreed to pay back $231,791 in funds that were stolen from the bail account over many years. A first payment of $50,000 has been received by the town.

Defendants in town court who did not have their bail money properly returned to them due to the theft can contact the town justice court to have their money returned.

Ms. Stulsky, who worked for the town since 1980, submitted to the board a handwritten letter announcing her intent to retire last March. The board then approved a resolution accepting her “resignation.”

Because Ms. Stulsky says she retired and did not resign, she is entitled to retiree health benefits. Ms. Stulsky, union vice president Tim Abrams, and the union’s attorney, Paul Leavitt, all attended Thursday’s arbitration hearing. They declined to comment after the meeting.

A Suffolk Times reporter was originally permitted in the hearing, but Mr. Leavitt asked the arbitrator to have the reporter removed, saying the meeting was private.

“We object to the presence of anyone that’s not related to this arbitration,” Mr. Leavitt said.

Southold Town’s labor counsel — Mr. Zuckerman and Alyssa Zuckerman — disagreed, saying there was nothing in the contract that defined arbitration hearings as being private.

Mr. Zuckerman added that the results of the hearing would later be made public and that the case was in the public interest.

In response, Mr. Leavitt said the labor union would not attend the hearing with a reporter present and would contact the state’s Public Employment Relations Board to see if it was legal.

The arbitrator ruled that since the contract didn’t define the meeting as either private or public, and since the two attorneys didn’t agree, he would make the meeting private.

Mr. Grey then told the reporter to leave, saying he meant “no offense to the Fourth Estate.” He declined to comment on the hearing after the meeting.

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