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DEBENEDETTI LOSES COURT FIGHT FOR BUDGET REPORT

A state court Friday refused to order County Executive Joel A. Giambra to submit more timely budget records to the Democrat-controlled County Legislature's chief budget watchdog, Albert DeBenedetti.

State Supreme Court Justice Ronald H. Tills denied DeBenedetti's bid for a court order directing county Budget Director Joseph Passafiume to give the Legislature the same monthly budget reports he provides Giambra.

In ruling against DeBenedetti, Tills cited the lawmaker's use of media accounts of county financial problems. The judge then pointed to erroneous media reports, ranging from "Dewey Defeats Truman" headlines to premature reports of the death of Yasser Arafat, in saying he found "insufficient evidence" to support DeBenedetti's claims against Giambra.

The judge also cited sworn affidavits he received Nov. 1 from Passafiume and Deputy County Comptroller James Liddle that "there is no such deficit at present," and that the executive branch is "at present" up to date on all its "reporting obligations" to the Legislature.

James Shaw and Daniel Ward, lawyers for the Democratic majority, said they will have to discuss their next steps with DeBenedetti, chair of the Legislature's Finance and Management Committee. DeBenedetti, who was not at Friday's court session, could not be reached to comment.

Tills ruled after First Deputy County Attorney Andrew B. Isenberg said the Erie County Charter does not mandate that the county executive report on county spending to the Legislature once a budget has been adopted. Such actions are only mandated should he ever formally declare a "budget deficit," which requires Legislature action, Isenberg argued.

Isenberg also told the judge a budget resolution the County Legislature passed in August was a legally insufficient justification for DeBenedetti seeking to force Giambra to submit budget reports. If the Legislature wants greater control over the county budget once it has been adopted, a local law must be implemented, Isenberg told the judge.

Tills also rejected DeBenedetti's bid for a court order to settle a dispute with Giambra over about 400 vacant positions lawmakers tried to delete from the budget to save money in 2004.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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