Orange County Government Center
Photo by Sean Hemmerle, via Graham Foundation

As preparations to demolish part of Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center continued, lawyer Michael Sussman awaited his day in court. Last week, Sussman filed suit in against Orange County and two officials—county executive Steven Neuhaus and county legislator Leigh Benton—to stop the county from proceeding with a plan to tear down part of Rudolph's building and significantly alter the rest, as proposed by the engineering and architecture firm Clark Patterson Lee (CPL). Sussman described architect Gene Kaufman’s competing plan—to convert the building into artist studios, and build a new government center—as “the objectively far superior option.”

In his complaint, filed in State Supreme Court on behalf of three Orange County residents, Sussman argued that the county committed waste by choosing the CPL proposal, which he said will cost millions of dollars more than would Kaufman’s “two-building solution.” “And if demonstration of such significant public waste were not enough,” he wrote in an accompanying memorandum, “the record demonstrates that this waste is the result of the collusive and corrupt practices of those involved.” Specifically, he noted that Benton, the head of the legislature’s physical services committee, accepted a job with CPL while helping to determine the fate of the building. (Benton, a jeweler by trade, resigned the position after his connection to CPL was disclosed. He later was fined and censured in 2014.) As further evidence of collusion, Sussman noted that, during Neuhaus's campaign for county executive in 2013, “Neuhaus received at least $86,000 in donations, as well as other support, from parties interested in the selection of the most expensive option.”

In his memorandum, Sussman demanded that the county be enjoined from altering the Rudolph building until the lawsuit is adjudicated. Without the injunction, “Plaintiffs will suffer imminent irreparable harm,” he wrote, “because the intended demolition cannot be undone and will forever destroy the landmark Government Center.”