The Great Neck Library has spent nearly half a million dollars on various legal fees stemming from a lawsuit over a vacant board seat and subsequent counterclaims, which have now been settled.
The financial disclosures were made at the Board of Trustees meeting Sept. 19, where mounting legal fees were discussed and approved by the board in the settlement. Arguments over bad construction work are still being litigated in other legal actions.
A joint statement included in the settlement said: “The action was resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. The parties are committed to working together amicably and respectfully to support the Great Neck Library in its mission to engage our diverse community, inspire ideas, and accelerate lifelong learning through traditional and innovative library services.”
The dispute originated when a seat on the library board became vacant following Chelsea Sassouni’s resignation in September 2021. Under the library’s bylaws, the nominating committee, which endorses candidates, was required to present two or more names to the board within a 60-day window, with the board then responsible for selecting one of the options.
The individuals embroiled in the case included Trustee Barry Smith, Trustee Donald Panetta, and nominating committee members Marietta DiCamillo and Marianna Wohlgemuth. Resident David Zielenziger, who was a candidate at the time for the committee seat, was also involved in the case.
The legal saga began with the filing of a complaint in Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola on Jan. 3, 2022. The complaint, which was never served, alleged that the board’s appointment of Jenni Lurman on Dec. 21, a trustee candidate not recommended by the library’s nominating committee, constituted “malfeasance, misconduct, and a breach of their fiduciary duty and contract with the library membership.”
The library flled a lawsuit against DiCamillo, Wohlgemuth, members of the nominating committee and Smith. The original lawsuit was withdrawn because it was never served, leaving only the counterclaim made by the library.
The legal fees incurred throughout the lawsuit and related proceedings amounted to nearly $400,000. The library’s insurance would only cover half the lawsuit filed by the library board since it’s used as a protective measure and counterclaims were made against the board in the board’s lawsuit.
“I campaigned on resolving the lawsuit and am glad that we finally have,” said Board President Rory Lancman, “The library’s money should be spent on books and programs that serve the community.”
Board trustee Smith also filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights against the library. However, the agency dismissed the complaint, finding no probable cause for the allegations. Wohlgemuth and DiCamillo also filed human rights complaints, and both were dismissed for the same reason.
Legal representation for the library was provided by the law firm Greenberg Traurig.
As part of the settlement’s terms, Smith agreed to withdraw with prejudice all non-criminal complaints. Additionally, the Board of Trustees and nominating committee are required to complete a minimum of two hours of independent training education annually.
Charges against the library were dropped, and counterclaims were also discontinued. Under the settlement, the board and committee must review nomination committee bylaws with a neutral lawyer present and adopt a policy and process for removing a trustee.
Various legal expenses included $84,000 for Bee Ready, $27,000 for Senior Professional in Human Resources complaints, around $4,000 for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, approximately $34,000 for nomination committee Equal Employment Opportunity Commission vacancy litigation, and about $19,000 for election spending and candidate issues.
Greenberg Traurig began receiving payments at the beginning of 2022, with approximately $250,000 spent to date, excluding invoices from July or August. Mediator costs amounted to $14,550.
Funds spent were partly reimbursed by the library’s insurance company, totaling $29,000.
An additional $193,000 has been spent on different litigation with VRD contractors, who did unsatisfactory construction work to the main library between 2014 and 2016.