Aldrich Park Site Case _ Judge Lost Counter Suit Filing

From Mackie Finnerty, member of Coalition for a Worklink Center:

On July 11, Judge Skinner held a hearing on the Aldrich Park site in New York State Court, Riverhead.

Members of the Coalition for a Worklink Center were there along with a court room full of Minutemen and other similar groups. The surprise of the day was that Judicial Watch, a very conservative group of lawyers, has come in on the side of the Minutemen. They had 2-3 lawyers there and asked to file an Amicus brief which they had already sent to the court but served on no other parties. The judge allowed them to enter it.

The judge said he had not received any of our papers, even though we had filed them and had a return signed by the judge saying he had received them. However he allowed our counsel to argue anyway. Our lawyers gave him another set.

The plaintiffs (neighbors Berkowski) argued that the field had been a beautiful place full of butterflies and women strolling children until (Mayor) Epley put up fences, trees and driveways, ruining the whole place and alienating it as a park in violation of the CPF rules for open space.

The Village countered with a true picture of what the field was and that it was next to Route 39 and a 7-11 and had been a farm field with pesticides and a butterfly had not been seen for years. He argued that Epley had not done anything not in keeping with a park and that the men had and could stand there. The land was purchased with CPF funds and that the Village had contributed huge amounts of taxes toward that end. Ultimately, the Town entered an agreement giving the Village the right to manage the land.

The Town attorney said they agreed with the Plaintiffs and wanted the injunction kept on and the trees and driveway removed immediately. The Judge denied the removal at this time.

Both the Plaintiffs and the Town argued strenuously against us the Coalition intervening, saying there was no First Amendment issue involved and that our issues were not the same as the Villages and that we would not be bound by the ruling. They said that they only wanted to stop the Village from making a formal hiring hall, putting up Port-a-potties, structures, trees and driveways.

Our attorney (from the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund) gave a strong pitch for our First Amendment rights and explained why it was necessary to have the workers appear as John Does. She gave examples of ways that the Minutemen and others had intimidated the men.

The Judge said he is threatened and harassed constantly and that he was not likely to allow John Doe defendants. He appeared to be lacking in knowledge about John Doe parties.
The judge gave 15 days for all attorneys to respond to all the recently filed papers. He said he would rule as quickly there afterward as possible.

Some of the courts conduct was extremely shocking to me. Judge Skinner allowed all the hate groups to clap loudly whenever they liked a point made by plaintiffs or the town or Judicial Watch.

At the end of their arguments, he would say what a good job the attorneys had done. He was very obviously loving them. When any attorney on our side spoke, he said nothing and of course the three of us didn't clap because it is never allowed in court and is totally inappropriate.

Even more distressing, SOS* president Herb McKay was jumping up from the audience and making objections and the Judge allowed it and discussed matters with him. No one in the audience is allowed to do that ever and no non-attorney can speak in court unless it is a pro se party.

One did not have a good feeling. In spite of that, when we all discussed it later, we agreed that the judge was intelligent and would have an almost impossible time writing the decision the way the plaintiffs and Town want it without running afoul of the Constitution. In the end he has to write something that will hold up on appeal. Any ruling on CPF land would have a strong effect on all the 5 eastern towns. We don't expect any decision until August or Sept.

* Save Our Southampton, a group headed by Montauk resident McKay