June 14, 2006

No Justice Court For Village

Sag Harbor residents who have been rallying for their own village justice court had their hopes dashed recently.

Last Thursday, Suffolk County Supreme Court Judge Paul J. Baisley Jr. determined the Supreme Court was "unable to ascertain" that the village board validly established the position of village justice.

"The record reflects that no resolution establishing the office of village justice ever appeared on the agenda for any of the board meetings, including the December 13, 2005 meeting at which such a resolution was supposedly approved," the decision read.

The court's decision goes on to say neither the minutes nor the transcripts of the board of trustees reflect that the board ever considered, voted on, or approved a resolution establishing the office of village justice.

Southampton Town Attorney Lisa Kombrink said the decision, "appeared to acknowledge this both in her affidavit in opposition and at oral argument," but suggested other board actions, such as adopting a negative state environmental quality review act declaration, and authorizing publication of an abstract of a resolution "in effect did create the office of village justice."

Not good enough: "The court is not persuaded by such an argument," the decision declared.

Sag Harbor Village Mayor Ed Deyermond said the board had been working on the idea of a justice court in Sag Harbor for almost two years. "The biggest reason was that 95% of the work goes to Town of Southampton, because the village is split between East Hampton and Southampton," he said.

With Southampton Town's proposed move of the justice court to Hampton Bays, it would be very difficult for attorneys and law enforcement officials to travel and testify, said Deyermond.

Second, said the mayor, the village has a large code enforcement calendar and the town justices recently began the process of reducing the number of town days cases are heard. "It just got to be very difficult for us to manage those issues," he said.

The village started the wheels turning for its own justice court and retained the services of Fundamental Business Services, a company that handles and sets up justice courts on Long Island. The village board had also begun the process of adopting resolutions to "put the parts of the project in place," said Deyermond.

Because Sag Harbor is a small village, Deyermond said, the board had opted for countywide residency for possible justices.

That's something that didn't sit well with Wainscott attorney and resident Patricia Weiss, who, on April 25, 2006 commenced the Article 78 proceeding, challenging the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees. Weiss sought to challenge the village, which created the office of village justice and adopted a resolution on February 14, providing that the elected official may reside within Suffolk County.

Weiss sought an order to annul the resolution and prohibit the board from accepting nominating petitions from, or placing on the ballot, any candidate who does not reside within the boundaries of the village of Sag Harbor.

Weiss argued that the change in the residency required from village-wide to county may not be affected by resolution, but requires adoption of a local law after a public hearing or permissive referendum.

Weiss was thrilled with the court's decision. "The judge put the ball on the 50-yard line." she said.

Weis said she and Mary Whelan would be holding a meeting of lawyers at Spinnaker's on Tuesday, June 27, from 4 to 6 p.m., to speak about the potential Sag Harbor justice court. "It's an oral argument," she said. "The local bar meets the local bar."

Among the topics Weiss plans to discuss is appealing to lawmakers such as Senator Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele to change legislation so it addresses the practice of hiring countywide, something she does not feel works on Long Island, where justices who are located near the area are the goal.

Deyermond said the village justice court was something "a vast majority of residents wanted. It's a different situation for them. It's unfortunate that it's come to this."

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