As guardians of our communities, municipal leaders face many challenges. The financial security of a community can be threatened by lawsuits from unhappy applicants and terminated employees, state agencies enforcing environmental laws, and tort claims. Municipalities must also confront an ever-changing regulatory structure as well as budgetary strain from the rising costs of government services, including insurance and employee benefits. Additionally, municipalities often underestimate their rights under New York law, including their ability to recover treble damages under the state’s robust False Claims Act.
Our multi-disciplinary team of legal professionals serves as counsel and advisors to municipal officials seeking practical solutions to the legal issues affecting local government.
We also represent private clients before municipal entities on matters such as land use and zoning, public finance, and litigation.
Land Use and Zoning
We have helped local municipalities craft new zoning ordinances, including incentive zoning and environmental protection overlay districts. We are also experienced in representing municipalities in responding to the proposed siting of unwanted or dangerous facilities within their communities.
Special Environmental Issues
One of the gravest problems facing municipalities is the cost associated with environmental issues. We have assisted local governments in negotiating New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) consent decrees, obtaining reimbursement from various state funds projects, developing landfill solutions and financing cleanup projects (including brownfields and Superfund litigation) that involve asbestos, nuclear waste, petroleum, solid waste, and other hazardous substances. We also help local communities that are targeted for a disposal facility, including the negotiation of host community benefits, representation in adjudicatory hearings before the DEC, and formal court challenges.
False Claims Act Representation
Under the New York State False Claims Act, municipalities are empowered to bring treble damages actions against contractors, vendors, and any others who may have obtained municipal funds through misrepresentation, fraud, or other wrongdoing. We represent municipal governments in investigating, developing, and litigating False Claims Act suits as plaintiffs. We are also experienced in working cooperatively with the New York Attorney General in joint investigations under the False Claims Act.
Energy and Telecommunications
The deregulation of gas, electric and telecommunications utilities presents municipalities with new opportunities and risks. We have worked with local governments in negotiating favorable supply contracts and renegotiation of franchises.
Local municipalities have many options for financing projects through the issuance of municipal indebtedness. Private businesses and developers also look to such indebtedness to finance projects through industrial development agencies or similar public benefit corporations. We have represented municipalities and private parties, acted as bond counsel and provide day to day guidance to several public authorities.
Advice to Municipalities on Self-Insurance
Municipalities are now faced with the staggering costs of insurance with respect to general liability claims. Our attorneys are experienced in helping municipalities develop self-insurance programs and defending municipalities from tort claims.
Public Sector – Labor and Employment Law
Municipal officials often become overwhelmed by the complexity of the Civil Service Law, the collective bargaining process, and the Compensation and Fair Labor Standards Act. We regularly represent municipalities in labor negotiations, certification proceedings, personnel matters, Article 75 hearings, and with respect to the American Disabilities Act and other state and federal regulations.
The escalating cost of benefits to municipal employees constitutes one of the greatest strains on municipal budgets. Our attorneys can provide creative programs for limiting such costs. We have extensive experience with self-insurance medical plans, flexible spending accounts, unfunded or underfunded pension obligations, and the relevant state and federal laws.
Special Litigation Services
Municipal litigation frequently combines complex legal issues with sensitive matters of public perception. We shepherd our clients through the litigation process and have practiced before all courts from the local and state level to the U.S. Supreme Court. Our experience includes employment discrimination, first amendment claims, Article 78 proceedings involving challenges to the municipality’s rulings, and civil rights actions against local law enforcement officials.