A New York state judge has ruled that a politically connected Long Island law firm is a public figure and must meet the actual-malice standard in a defamation suit against a Nassau County legislator who publicly accused the firm of over-billing the county and trying to cover up the misconduct of a county official.

Peter J. Schmitt, the Republican minority leader of the Nassau County legislature, made a series of public statements in January and February 2004 concerning the role Glen Cove, N.Y., law firm Crowe Deegan played in the administration of County Executive Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat.

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