A long-running lawsuit challenging an Oyster Bay town ordinance that sought to stop day laborers from seeking work on the streets of Locust Valley is heading for resolution -- at least for a crucial phase.
The discovery period -- in which the plaintiffs and defendant can take depositions and ask for documents -- will end next month. The plaintiffs plan to ask for a permanent injunction to prevent the 2009 law from being enforced.
U.S. District Judge Denis R. Hurley, of the Eastern District in Central Islip, stopped the Town of Oyster Bay from ticketing day laborers and employers when he ordered a temporary restraining order and then a preliminary injunction in 2010.
Alan Levine, a civil rights attorney with Manhattan-based Latino Justice representing the plaintiffs along with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that in the 2 1/2 years since Oyster Bay's ordinance was enjoined the traffic problems the town argued would arise have not.
"It hasn't been in effect all that time and during that time there have been no traffic problems at all," he said. "Whatever possible justification existed for this ordinance when it was passed certainly doesn't exist now."
The case was brought on behalf of Centro De La Comunidad Hispana De Locust Valley and the Workplace Project, which work with day laborers. Their attorneys have fought the ordinance largely on First Amendment grounds.
"It is a free-speech issue at bottom," Levine said. "It's not just the right to assemble, it's the right of day laborers to stand on a street corner and say, 'I would like to have a job.' "
The town's attorney argued that the workers' speech didn't deserve First Amendment protection because some workers could be immigrants here illegally and without a legal right to work. Hurley rejected that argument, saying the work they were seeking was legal.
"The speech banned under the Oyster Bay Ordinance targets efforts to solicit employment," Hurley wrote in his decision. "That some of those involved in that activity may endeavor to 'sidestep . . . tax, employment, workers' compensation, labor and immigration laws,' . . . does not render the speech itself unlawful."
Town officials reject the judge's ruling that the case deals with freedom of speech.
"This issue has nothing to do with the censorship of anyone's free speech, it has to do with the protection of everyone's safety," Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto said in an email.
Venditto said the law was intended to protect people from traffic accidents caused by people congregating on the street but declined to comment whether there had been any specific incidents.
Venditto said that if the town loses, it will appeal.
Nadia Marin-Molina, workers' rights program coordinator for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network in the New York and New Jersey region, said that the ordinance worried day laborers and organizations across Long Island.
"Because the legislation or activity to repress day laborers . . . happens in one area, it can happen in another area, the next town over," she said.
Day laborers tend to be Latinos and that has been one reason why some municipalities have sought to prevent them from being in their community, she said.
"In some places there are people who don't want to see the increasing number of Latino immigrants," Marin-Molina said.
2009:Oyster Bay passes ordinance to stop day laborers from seeking work.
2010: Day laborers file a lawsuit against the ordinance. U.S. District Judge Denis R. Hurley stops Town of Oyster Bay from ticketing day laborers and employers, and orders a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.
2013: In December, plaintiffs plan to seek permanent injunction of 2009 law.