A small-town law firm founded in 1937, Ingerman Smith grew into a legal powerhouse, representing more than one-third of all the school districts on Long Island and racking up millions of dollars in fees.
"It's a seller's market for good legal services," said former Brentwood superintendent Mike Cohen, who used the firm extensively. "They gave great advice, but the meter was always running." Cohen said that for a district like Brentwood, "going through the bill every month was a major task. "On any given day, something happened where you had to talk to the attorneys and they billed for every phone call," he said.
The law firm was thrust into the spotlight last week after Newsday reported that attorney Lawrence Reich was allowed to earn a $61,459 New York State pension and state health benefits after five school districts reported him as a full-time employee, even though he worked part time for the districts and was a partner at the firm. At the same time, the districts paid the law firm $2.5 million in fees, according to records.
Records show that Ingerman Smith was aware of the arrangement. On Aug. 29, 1995, firm partner Daniel Greenberg wrote a letter to Harborfields thanking the district for accommodating the arrangement. Calls to the law firm for comment were not returned.
Former New York State Sen. Bernard Smith founded the firm with attorney Percy Ingerman. Starting out in Northport, it expanded to Westchester and Rockland counties in 1997; the firm moved to Hauppauge in 2005.
Today, there are 24 attorneys with the firm, according to its Web site. Its roster includes former prosecutors and village and town officials. One attorney, Peter Johnson, is also deputy Smithtown assessor, earning $89,120 a year there, records show.
Like many Long Island law firms, Ingerman Smith has contributed to political campaigns. State records show it has contributed $7,975 to local and state politicians since 1999.
The firm specializes in educational law and has enjoyed long relationships with school districts. Since 1999, 40 school districts have paid the firm nearly $14 million, according to district records. And one former superintendent, Baldwin's Kathy Weiss, went to work for the firm as an independent investigator, Cohen said.
Baldwin was one of the five school districts that reported Reich as a full-time employee. It also provided him with health benefits. The other districts were Bellmore-Merrick High School, Copiague, East Meadow and Harborfields.
AND A RELATED STORY ALSO FROM FEBRUARY 17, 2008 NEWSDAY:
Henican: Lawyer Larry looks like he's living large
by Ellis Henican - February 17, 2008
Some guys just look guilty. They can't help it. You saw that front-page photo of Larry Reich in Newsday? Then you know what I'm talking about.
The rolls of neck fat bulging above the straining collar. The deep-set, bloodshot eyes. The tilted half-smile that almost seemed to sneer: "Only a sucker would try to live on a single paycheck!"
Obviously, this is not a man who's missed too many meals. Appearances can be harsh that way.
Through no fault of his own, Well-Fed Lawyer Larry is perfectly typecast as someone who might collect five full-time salaries from five local school districts, sucking up a quintuple state pension and lavish health benefits for life. Oh yeah, and for dessert? How 'bout another $2.5 million in fees for his law firm?
Now, none of this is the kind of evidence that would ever be allowed in court. In fact, he hasn't even been charged with anything. Wide-rides are no more greedy than skinny guys. There's no known correlation between moral laxity and collar size.
But ask yourself: If you had to stand one day in front of a jury of your peers, how'd you like to resemble the very crime you were accused of? These connections may be subliminal. But that doesn't mean they aren't powerful.......TO SEE THE FULL STORY GO TO www.NEWSDAY.COM