Lawsuit Alleges Madison County Attorney Campanie ‘Double Dips’ at Taxpayers’ Expense

Lawsuit Alleges Madison County Attorney Campanie ‘Double Dips’ at Taxpayers’ Expense

Gale Courey Toensing
4/15/11

Two employees of the Oneida Indian Nation have filed a lawsuit against Madison County Attorney S. John Campanie and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, alleging that the attorney has “doubled-dipped” by improperly reaping more than $800,000 from a law firm he helped select to fight legal battles against the nation while being paid by the state for the same work. The suit charges that DiNapoli knew about the illegal payments, but has failed to do anything about them.

The legal action was filed in the state Supreme Court in Albany on April 11 by Steven Mahler and Daniel Garrow, both Madison County residents and employees of the Oneida Nation Enterprises, LLC. The nation is backing the lawsuit, according to an Associated Press report.

The lawsuit seeks restitution to taxpayers for “at least $800,000” and possibly more than $1 million in taxpayer funds that have been allegedly illegally disbursed to Campanie or his law firms, the Kiley Law Firm PC and Campanie 7 Wayland-Smith PLLC over the past 13 years in a violation of a conflict of interest law that prohibits him from receiving additional compensation for representing Madison County. Campanie helped select Nixon Peabody to represent Madison County against the Oneida Indian Nation’s land claim, but he has been paid for legal work beyond the authorized land rights litigation, according to the lawsuit.

"The arrangement Campanie set up is a clear violation of both county and state law, and must be stopped immediately," said Mark Emery, director of media relations for the Oneida Nation.

The 19 Madison County supervisors  “circled the wagons” around Campanie in a statement April 12, calling the lawsuit  "a desperate attempt" by the Oneidas to deny effective legal counsel to the county and state against the nation’s claims to more than 250,000 acres of their aboriginal homeland in what is now central New York. In its notorious 2005 City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged that the 1974 Treaty of Canandaigua guaranteed the Oneida people their “free use and enjoyment” of the 300,000 acres that remained of their six million acre territory, but the court said it was too late to claim their land rights, because that would disturb the descendants of the settler colonists who had illegally obtained the land and continue to profit from it.

The next day—April 13—the Madison County Board of Supervisors scheduled a meeting for Friday, April 15, when they will vote to nearly double Campanie’s base salary from $79,000 to $140,000, according to a report on The Post Standard's web site. They will also schedule a public hearing on the matter for April 22 and vote to authorize paying for Campanie’s defense.

Emery said the maneuver is offensive. “Doubling John Campanie’s salary as county attorney before any Madison County officials have explained why he has illegally received nearly $1 million over 13 years is outrageous and an insult to the people of Madison County.”

In a letter to DiNapoli last fall, the law firm of Boies Schiller & Flexner asked for an investigation of the alleged misuse of taxpayer, but received no response, the lawsuit says. The suit asks the court to order DiNapoli to act immediately to stop the payments and obtain restitution of Madison County and New York state taxpayers.

“Important public interests are involved here,” Boies attorney George F. Carpinello wrote. “The public is rightly concerned that more than $12 million in state funds not be spent improperly, particularly in these economically difficult times. The public is rightly concerned that public officers, like county attorneys, not use their jobs to enrich themselves. And the public is rightly concerned that public officers, like county attorneys, conduct the public’s business, including litigation, free of the compromise produced by conflicting self-interest.”

DiNapoli spokesman Dennis Tompkins said Tuesday the comptroller has not yet been served with the court papers, according the Associated Press report.

"We are aware of the issues that have been raised. We've been looking at this closely for several months," Tompkins said. "It's a fairly complicated situation."

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