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Steve Lungen is back

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — May 25, 2010 — Guess who’s back in town?
It probably will surprise no one that former Sullivan County District Attorney Steve Lungen has set up a private law practice right across Bank Street from the County Courthouse in Monticello.
Then again, three weeks after opening a tiny corner office within the Legal Aid building, Lungen still seems a bit surprised himself.
“I’m not exactly sure how much and what I want to do,” he acknowledged on Friday. “I’m feeling my way around first.”
Many expected he’d be a candidate to replace retiring County Court Judge Burton Ledina, but Lungen made a fateful decision when he left office in December to take the rest of the winter off – mostly out of the county.
“Had I stayed here, I very well would have been sucked into that race,” he admitted. “I would like to end my career as a judge.”
But a few months relaxing and motorcycling in Florida with his wife and grandchild brought him to a startling revelation.
“I don’t have to work 24/7 to make a living anymore,” Lungen related, almost with a tinge of awe. “I didn’t realize what a toll the pressure… took over the years.”
Sure, he had taken vacations before. But this time, there were no urgent cellphone calls. No staff to supervise. No office to run. No cases to try. No juries to seat.
Nothing but fresh air, endless sunshine and choices about what kind of family fun to be had next.
In short, it was a brand new life for a guy used to spending seven days a week in the DA’s Office.
He came back a changed man.
“People now say to me, ‘Boy! You look so relaxed’,” Lungen recalled. “That’s because I feel better. Like most people, I didn’t realize stress’s impacts. I thought it was part of a normal day.”
Now a “normal day” consists of coming into his newly redone, second-story office, sitting down at his modest desk, and leafing through a stack of papers far shorter than what this former DA regularly dealt with for 28 years.
“I’ve got a couple of criminal cases,” he said. “I’m going to be selective. I don’t want every criminal case.”
That said, he’s up for tackling anything from traffic tickets to violent crimes “if I think I could help somebody… to do some good.”
After all, though he likes the newfound ability to abandon the office for an occasional game of golf, he still is eager for work.
“I just don’t want to do nothing,” Lungen explained. “But I’m not in it to make fortunes.”
For now, having a room across the hallway from Legal Aid attorneys, close friends and longtime courtroom rivals Steve Schick and Tim Havas is right where Lungen wants to be.
He still chats with his successor, DA Jim Farrell, but is glad to be out of the political system.
“I was never good at politics anyway,” he remarked – despite having landed one re-election after another in his three decades as DA. “And I’ve no intentions [to get back into politics]. I have nothing on my radar.”
Lungen finally got his sign hung outside 11 Bank Street on Friday. Reflecting his newfound lifestyle, it’s just a simple shingle listing his name and profession.
His smile is the real deal, crossing a face free of worry and weariness.
“I’m open for business!”

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