No decision in trial over Laurel Hollow home showcase

Jane Grucci's grand ballroom at the Laurel Hollow

Jane Grucci's grand ballroom at the Laurel Hollow designer showcase on Ridge Road on Aug. 27, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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The defense attorney for a woman accused of running an illegal open house at a Laurel Hollow mansion has questioned why only one organizer of the showcase for interior designers is facing prosecution.

"It's odd that out of two dozen designers only one is prosecuted," attorney Mona Conway said Wednesday night during a three-hour trial for her client, Claudia Dowling.

Conway noted that while Dowling and her company face 18 charges of violating stop-work orders and zoning code violations, the village wasn't prosecuting the mansion's owner, Robert Bakhchi, and that three other defendants -- real estate agent Maria Lanzisero and two limo drivers -- pleaded down to parking violations.

Village prosecutor Jeffrey Blinkoff said Dowling flouted the law when she and the other organizers went ahead with the event on Aug. 31 despite being denied a variance.

He said Dowling must have understood that the village denied the variance, because she had spoken at a zoning board meeting and went ahead, even after being ticketed.

"The statute . . . does not allow the type of commercial profit-making venture that has been described here," Blinkoff said.

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Conway also argued that stop-work orders applied to construction and remodeling rather than the event. Blinkoff said Conway misunderstood the statute.

The event was supposed to run on weekends for six weeks beginning Aug. 31, but it shut down after State Supreme Court Justice Karen Murphy issued a temporary restraining order on Sept. 6 and a permanent injunction on Dec. 6.

The event, known as a designer show house, was conceived to help sell a house that had been on the market for years while letting interior designers and landscapers showcase their work.

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Village court Judge Joseph D'Elia gave both parties 30 days to submit further briefs, after which he would make a decision in 30 to 60 days.

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