Embattled court clerk may sue town for breach of contract

08/15/2014 10:00 AM |

Christine Stulsky, center, after she was released on a $10,000 bond in March.

The former Southold Town Justice Court clerk accused of stealing more than $50,000 from the town’s bail account has filed a breach of contract claim against the town in an attempt to receive retiree health insurance benefits and other payments, according to a notice of claim filed in June. 

Christine Stulsky, 64, of New Suffolk alleges the town deemed her retirement to be a resignation and has therefore denied her health benefits and “contractual accruals” owed to her upon retirement.

 Ms. Stulsky, who was hired by the town in 1980, sent Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell a handwritten notice of her intent to retire on March 21, one day after the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office announced to the media it had launched an investigation into the theft of money from the Southold Town Justice Court. She had previously sent the supervisor emails on March 3, March 11 and March 19 stating that she intended to retire, according to a series of emails obtained by The Suffolk Times through Freedom of Information requests. The word resignation is not used in any of the written correspondences, records show.

But four days after Ms. Stulsky filed her handwritten letter to Mr Russell, the Southold Town Board voted unanimously to approve a resolution accepting Ms. Stulsky’s “resignation.”

The handwritten resignation letter submitted by former Southold Town justice court clerk Christine Stulsky on March 21. Click the letter to enlarge.

The handwritten letter announcing her intent to retire was submitted by former Southold Town justice court clerk Christine Stulsky on March 21. Click the letter to enlarge.

“Ms. Stulsky notified Supervisor Scott Russell of her intention to retire,” the notice of claim reads. “[But] the Town Board unilaterally deemed her retirement to be a resignation. Based on this unilateral decision that Ms. Stulsky resigned, when in fact she retired,  the Town asserted that it is not obligated to pay for her retiree health insurance benefits or her contractual accruals.”

The notice of claim also states “it is not possible to estimate the amount of damages at this time because it is ongoing,” but Ms. Stulsky “is entitled to the relief of fully paid retiree health insurance benefits in retirement, medical expenses, including prescriptions, and other expenses, the payment of any or all accruals and any other relief that the court deems proper.”

Town attorney Martin Finnegan said Thursday that Ms. Stulsky has not yet filed a lawsuit against the town. A suit must be filed within six months of a notice of claim, he said. Ms. Stulsky’s notice of claim was filed June 2.

“There have not been any further litigation papers,” Mr. Finnegan said.

The notice of claim lists the town, Mr. Russell and the Southold Town Board of Trustees as defendants, though it was the Town Board and not the Trustees that accepted her resignation.

Ms. Stulsky pleaded not guilty to charges of felony grand larceny and defrauding government, and misdemeanor official misconduct, at her arraignment March 28. A county court clerk confirmed Thursday that the case is still under investigation and has not yet been before a grand jury. Ms. Stulsky has not been indicted on the charges, the county court clerk said.

Suffolk County assistant district attorney Melisa Bliss said during the March arraignment that Ms. Stulsky stole “in excess” of $50,000 from the bail postings made in town court. The funds she funneled were used for “everyday expenses,” such as groceries, pet food and cigarettes, Ms. Bliss said.

Ms. Stulsky could not be reached for comment this week. The phone number she gave on the notice of claim was the number to the Southold Town Justice Court. Another phone number she listed on an email announcing her intent to retire only contained nine digits.

With Paul Squire and Cyndi Murray

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