The former Sag Harbor School Board president charged with violating the Suffolk County Social Host Law by knowingly allowing a group of Pierson High School students to drink alcohol at a birthday party at her house on Jan. 27 denied the accusation during her arraignment in Southampton Town Justice Court Friday. The charge, for which Susan Elizabeth Guinchard Kinsella faces trial, is a misdemeanor that carries a $500 fine for a first conviction.
Southampton Town police had been alerted that minors might be drinking at Ms. Kinsella's house, at 20 Barclay Drive in the West Banks neighborhood of North Haven, that night by state police who received an anonymous tip on 866-UNDER21, a line set up to encourage such reporting.
Police said an officer who arrived at the house could see, through a glass sliding door leading to the basement, a beer pong table and youths drinking out of red Solo cups. When police knocked on the door, they said Ms. Kinsella refused to allow them access. After her arraignment before Justice Deborah Kooperstein, Ms. Kinsella said that her house has about 10,000 square feet of finished floor space, and that she was in her bedroom on the second floor when police arrived, unaware of any alcohol consumption in the basement.
She was represented by Daniel G. Rodgers of Southampton, who asked for and was granted the earliest jury trial date on the justice's criminal calendar. Referring to an allegation that Ms. Kinsella had locked out police, he said, "Seriously? It was dark, you have kids in your house, and you are finding out for the first time that alcohol is being consumed."
A jury trial was set for June 29, though Ms. Kinsella and Mr. Rodgers said they may ask to have a bench trial — that is, a trial without a jury — in front of Justice Kooperstein if it could take place earlier. Bench trials generally take far less time to organize. Mr. Rodgers and his client stopped to speak with The Star outside the courthouse as heavy snow fell. "Think of if you were accused of doing something that you didn't do," Mr. Rodgers said. "You would be angry and upset and you would want your day in court."
Ms. Kinsella, who is due back in court on April 4, has agreed to waive pre-trial hearings in order to obtain a quick trial date.
The Suffolk County law Ms. Kinsella is alleged to have violated requires "corrective action" if an adult realizes that underage drinking is occurring. Police allege that Ms. Kinsella did not take such action, while Mr. Rodgers said she did, breaking up the party and questioning the students.
Police said that after Ms. Kinsella refused to let them into the house, they waited outside and spoke with the teens as they left. One of those questioned reportedly told police that Ms. Kinsella "did come downstairs to tell us to keep it down." Three of the four statements in the court file are dated the following day. It is not clear whether these statements were recorded shortly after midnight, or later.
At the arraignment, Carla Alison Egan, an assistant district attorney, asked that bail be set at $1,000. Mr. Rodgers argued that his client was not a flight risk and should be released without posting bail. "She has children. She is heavily involved in the community," Justice Kooperstein said as she rejected the prosecution's request.
Ms. Kinsella had brought a book with her and was reading before the court was called into session. "I need some Zen in my life. I am reading a book on Zen," she said afterward.