Fourteen fishermen facing trespassing charges in East Hampton Town Justice Court for off-roading on Truck Beach, a disputed stretch of Napeague beach might have their cases consolidated with a recently concluded lawsuit over the land, if a group of oceanfront Amagansett homeowners get their way.
Attorneys for the homeowners asked a Suffolk County judge on November 4 to move the case from criminal court to civil court so the charges can be merged with proceedings over the land known as Truck Beach, which an appeals court ruled is privately owned — a ruling the fishermen were protesting in an act of civil disobedience by driving on the shore anyway on October 17. Judge Paul J. Baisley, Jr. ordered the criminal case be temporarily delayed until he hears a arguments on the motion.
“Such an extraordinary and unprecedented application must fail because … consolidating civil and criminal matters together is inappropriate, as [the] plaintiff’s requested stay of the criminal proceedings while this motion is pending could affect the criminal defendants’ right to a speedy trial,” Christopher McDonald, an attorney with the Albany-based law firm of Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP, who represents the town in the case, wrote to the judge.
The New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, denied in September the town’s motion to hear an appeal of a lawsuit the town lost when an earlier appeals ruling found the public is not allowed to drive on and fish from the beach in front of the oceanfront property owners’ homes, effectively ending the lawsuit. The town has said that it plans to explore condemning the 4,000-foot stretch of beach west of Hither Hills State Park under eminent domain, the legal process in which the government can seize land for public use. The fishermen maintain that the lawsuit kept intact an easement that allows them to fish from the beach, and that commercial fishermen need trucks to do so.
Baisley is scheduled to hear arguments on the motion to have the trespassing cases heard in civil court on November 29. The fishermen were scheduled to be arraigned on the charges on November 10.