Public officer refused reimbursement for legal costs
Corning v. Laurel Hollow, 48 NY2d 348
Although initially represented by the County Attorney’s Office, public officials being sued in their personal rather than an official capacity for an act performed in connection with official duties dismissed the attorney provided by the County and engaged a private attorney to represent them. When they later sought reimbursement for their legal fees and expenses (they won the case) payment was denied on the basis that it would constitute an unlawful gift of public monies.
The decision also suggests that as the dispute was “private” the providing of a public staff attorney might not be in order.
In a dissenting opinion, the view that the legal expenses but not the attorney fees were reimbursable was expressed but this distinction was rejected by the majority. The majority view was that in the absence of a statute authorizing the Village to provide for a defense, the State Constitution prohibited it from reimbursing the officials for any expense incurred in defending themselves when sued in a personal capacity.