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Uber drivers plead to lesser charges for violating East Hampton taxi licensing law

Surrounded by the Uber drivers he represents, attorney

Surrounded by the Uber drivers he represents, attorney Daniel Rodgers speaks to the media at East Hampton Town Justice Court in East Hampton on June 29, 2015. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

All but one of the 22 Uber drivers charged with a misdemeanor for violating East Hampton Town's taxi licensing law pleaded guilty Monday to a lesser, non-criminal charge and agreed to pay a $400 fine.

The drivers for the app-based ride-booking company entered pleas in East Hampton Town Justice Court before Judge Lisa Rana as part of a deal worked out between their attorney, Daniel G. Rodgers, and Assistant Town Attorney Michael Sendlenski.

If convicted of the misdemeanor, the drivers would have faced up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The lesser charge of not having a taxi driver license is not a criminal offense; Rodgers described it as the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

Rodgers said 23 drivers were originally believed to have been charged over Memorial Day weekend with having no business owner license because they did not have an East Hampton address as required, but he said he recently found out that two other drivers were charged only with a camping violation for sleeping in their cars.

Rodgers said another driver told him in the past few days that he had received a ticket only for failure to dim his headlights, while another man said he is being investigated by the town attorney's office for possible fare fraud.

The two who pleaded guilty Monday to the camping offenses were fined $150. The cases of the drivers with the headlight charge and the alleged fare fraud are pending.

Both sides claimed victory after Monday's dispositions.

Rodgers called the business owner measure a bad law that "makes no logical sense." He questioned how a driver not having a physical office in town could threaten the public's safety.

"The good news in the end is it's a reasonable disposition," he said, adding that the drivers will have no criminal records. "They pleaded guilty in the interest of getting a clean slate and moving forward."

Rodgers said town officials need to dispose of the business owner law, but Sendlenski said it helps people stay in compliance, pointing to the fact that Uber ended up complying because it ceased operations in East Hampton Town.

"We accepted a lesser charge because we didn't want to hold these individual taxi cab drivers when they may have been getting information from someone else that it was OK" to drive without proper licensing, Sendlenski said.

Asked about Rodgers' comments, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said Uber will be paying thousands of dollars in fines, so "apparently it's an effective law."

A spokesman for Uber could not be reached for comment.

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