East Hampton Town Justice Lisa Rana dismissed four charges against Thomas Ferreira, a Montauk mechanic, on Sept. 24 on the advice of John Jilincki, the town attorney, and Robert Connelly, an attorney in Mr. Jilincki’s department. In doing so, she cited their brief of July 30, which cited a “legal impediment to the conviction of the defendant for the offenses charged.”
Three of the four were for alleged violations of state fire and property maintenance codes dealing with the storage of unregistered vehicles and maintenance of a wooden carport. The fourth was an alleged violation of a town code requiring a building permit for a radio antenna.
The town attorneys’ advice came after Lawrence Kelly, a former federal prosecutor, and Thomas Horn, an East Hampton attorney, filed a $55 million civil rights action against the town on Mr. Ferreira’s behalf, which is pending. It also followed revision of numerous town ordinances, whose details and terminology were questioned by the lawyers.
Mr. Connelly advised Justice Rana: “It appears from researching the East Hampton Town Code that the town did not affirmatively adopt, by resolution, the New York State Fire Prevention and Building Code, commonly referred to as the Uniform Code, until June 3, 2011, sometime after the defendant was served with charges for same.” Mr. Connelly said that while the town was permitted to administer the code at the time, it did not have the authority to enforce it.
With regard to the antenna, Mr. Connelly referred to a ruling from the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court in the People v. Rian White case. The ruling stated that the town code did not prohibit a property owner from maintaining or keeping a structure on his property without a building permit, but only its erection, construction, enlargement, removal, improvement, transportation, or demolition.
The federal action against the town stems from alleged wrongdoing by the town when it hired contractors to remove vehicles and equipment from Mr. Ferreira’s property on Fort Pond Bay.
“The whole thrust in civil rights litigation is to hold government accountable for its actions. People were able to use government for their personal reasons in Tom’s case,” Mr. Kelly said.
He said the charges dismissed on Sept. 24 were only a part of the federal lawsuit. “We look at all the things that went into it, the lack of free information flow to the town board, the suppression of findings that his property was free of public safety threats. Mr. Horn and I look at everything the town has done, we find they were not wrong out of chance, but by incompetence, laziness, or malice.”
The legal impediments Mr. Connelly referred to in his brief to Justice Rana were corrected two weeks ago by the town board, but they had existed from 2005 until then. Mr. Kelly said that, just as fire marshals were technically not permitted to issue state code violations during that time, code enforcement officials, who had been given the title of inspector without the proper investigative experience or training during the administration of former Supervisor William McGintee, “were not authorized to write town code violations.”
“They issued thousands of summonses without authority, including in Tom Ferreira’s case,” Mr. Kelly said.