The Town of Hamburg refuses to pay for the legal defense of Councilman Joseph Collins in a lawsuit that seeks to remove him from office after getting outside legal advice that the town was not required to provide the defense.
Collins had asked the town to defend him last month, and Monday he sought backing from the three-member Town Board, citing state law that provides for towns to defend elected officials. He did not receive a second to the resolution, so there was no vote on the motion.
The town attorney consulted with a lawyer outside the town on whether Collins is entitled to a defense paid for by the town. Leonard Berkowitz, the former town attorney in Orchard Park with years of experience in municipal law, said that, in his opinion, Collins is not entitled to a town-funded defense.
Elizabeth Reszka accused Collins, the lone Democrat on the board, of breaching his duties to the town to benefit his private law firm. Among the allegations, Reszka has accused Collins of representing clients in Town Court after being advised it would be a conflict of interest; directing an employee to post fliers in town buildings advertising his legal practice; giving copies of confidential correspondence to the subject of an investigation; and being found guilty of violating the town’s code of ethics.
When she filed the lawsuit, Reszka’s husband was a leader with the town Republican Committee. He has since resigned his post, sources said.
Berkowitz recommended the town deny Collins’ request to pay for the defense.
“My opinion is that the conduct alleged in the complaint filed against Mr. Collins is outside the scope of Mr. Collins’ public employment or duties,” Berkowitz wrote in a letter to the town attorney.
Collins denies the charges, and says he will fight Reszka’s lawsuit.
Supervisor Steven J. Walters said the town offered Collins the chance to present evidence that could show the town should pay for his defense, but he has not.
“It is not my belief the town will be providing a defense for the allegations presented,” Walters said.