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Sep 18, 2012 6:19 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

School District Wants A Jury To Try Sandpebble Suit

Sep 18, 2012 6:23 PM

The East Hampton School Board intends to bring the lawsuit with Sandpebble Builders to a jury trial, Superintendent Richard Burns said on Tuesday. The board’s president, Dr. George Aman, was expected to issue a statement to that 
effect at the School Board’s meeting Tuesday night, which was after the deadline for the print issue of The East Hampton Press.

Dr. Aman could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to Kevin Seaman, the school district’s special counsel, the School Board met in executive session on September 11 with Steven Pinks, who leads the firm representing the district in the suit, Pinks, Arbeit and Nemeth. Mr. Pinks advised the board that “in lieu of settling for millions,” the district would be in a better position if it opted for a trial, at a potentially large savings, Mr. Seaman said. Both Mr. Burns and Mr. Seaman said that if the case does go to trial, it would probably be scheduled about a year from now.

A settlement, Mr. Burns said Tuesday, “doesn’t seem to be a viable option at this point.”

Sandpebble Builders sued the school district for $3.75 million in 2006 after the district awarded an $80 million school expansion project contract to 
Park East. Sandpebble, which had at first been hired for a project of smaller scale, was countersued by the school district in 2007.

The district replaced its attorneys in the suit, Morgan Lewis Bocklus, in May of 2011. Sandpebble, which is owned by Victor Canseco, is represented by Stephen Angel of Esseks, Hefter and Angel. The initial firm, which is based in Manhattan, was charging what then Superintendent Raymond Gualtieri estimated was “in the 600s” per hour.

Before the firm was replaced, the school district had paid an estimated $2.4 million to Morgan Lewis, Dr. Laura Anker, 
then the School Board vice president, estimated at the time. According to Mr. Seaman, there was a lull in legal activity for about a year after that, during which there would have been little accrual of legal fees, followed by an accrual of about $35,000 in the past three or four months, a figure Mr. Burns also cited.

Jonathan Lipschie of Pinks, Arbeit and Nemeth promised to “forcefully litigate on behalf of the school district” at an East Hampton School Board meeting on September 4.

Afterward, both Mr. Lipschie and Mr. Angel said in separate telephone interviews that week that a settlement was still not precluded, but both said one was certainly not imminent at the time.

The case will be heard by Justice Thomas Whelan in State Supreme Court in Riverhead.

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