Homeowners in a contentious East End beach-rights case have asked a judge to hold the East Hampton trustees in “continuous contempt” of court after a lawyer for fishermen in a related case was quoted in newspapers encouraging people to use the beach for fishing.
In a filing Monday, a lawyer for four property-owner groups near the 4,000-foot stretch of beach in Napeague known as Truck Beach filed a proposed order that would find the Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town of East Hampton again in civil contempt for violating an Appellate Division order last year. A Suffolk Supreme Court Judge, Paul Baisley, already had found the Town of East Hampton and trustees in civil and criminal contempt in the case, a finding both bodies have appealed.
In the new papers in state Supreme Court, Stephen Angel, a lawyer for homeowners, pointed to stories in Newsday and other media outlets in which a lawyer for fishermen, Dan Rodgers, was quoted encouraging his clients and others to use the contested beach after Southampton Town justice dismissed trespass charges against his clients, 14 East Hampton fishermen, because homeowners failed to file formal trespass charges.
The case landed in the Southampton court after two East Hampton judges recused themselves from the case for unexplained reasons.
Rodgers has said he is seeking a legal definition of an 1882 right incorporated into a sale of the beach that allows for its continued use for “fishing and fishing-related” purposes. He has said that right includes the ability of fishermen, both commercial and recreational, who live in East Hampton, to use the beach to fish, including driving trucks or other vehicles to get there, haul nets and transport fish, among other activities.
Rodgers announced establishment of a new fishing clinic on the beach starting next spring, and issued laminated cards for fishermen that include wording from the easement. Rodgers and his clients have filed a separate class-action suit in state court, with Trustees, seeking clarification of the fishing right, also known as a reservation.
Angel, in an affidavit filed with his motion Monday, argued that Rodgers and the trustees “have actually ramped up their contempt of the [court’s] injunction by taking it to an open rebellion against the court’s authority.”
Rodgers, Angel wrote, has “acted as someone on a mission to defy the court’s authority by taking to the airwaves, brazenly insulting the court,” including Baisley “personally, by publicly declaring the court’s orders and judgement [sic] to be ineffective, and worse, by encouraging the public to violate the injunction in a show of civil disobedience.”
Rodgers on Tuesday scoffed at the claim, noting Angel’s filing refers only to his public statements, not to any action by him or his clients in violation of any court order.
“All they're talking about is speech and trying to shut us down because they don’t like what we’re saying,” he said. “They’re trying to shut down free speech by intimidating us. I’m an attorney and I’m advocating for my clients and will continue to do so.”
Daniel Spitzer, an attorney for the trustees, noted the trustees have not only been in "complete compliance" with a court injunction concerning access on the beach, but also put out a news release after the town court exoneration of the fishermen, "reminding everyone that the injunction remains in effect."
In addition, Spitzer noted about Angel's papers, "there's not one single spot where he says anyone walked on the beach. So how can there be a violation by anyone of the injunction?"
Rodgers noted the injunction referred to in Angel’s court papers forbids the town from issuing permits to drive on the beach, but is silent on the specific issue of trucks on the beach, which he said are required for the type of fishing his clients engage in.
Rodgers said the fishermen’s filing of a separate class-action lawsuit with the trustees that has yet to be acted upon by Baisley, along with two 2021 beach protests and their cases in local court, all seek “one simple thing: What is the definition of fishing-related activity on that beach?” he said.