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Pricey prosecution over Westhampton Beach ice cream cone sign ends with $250 fine

Elyse Richman, owner of Shock Ice Cream in

Elyse Richman, owner of Shock Ice Cream in Westhampton Beach, stands with the 6-foot-tall waffle ice cream sculpture in her shop, Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014. Credit: Randee Daddona

A Westhampton Beach business owner has paid a $250 fine for displaying a 6-foot-tall ice cream cone outside her store, ending a four-year saga that cost the village more than $23,000 in legal fees.

Elyse Richman, the owner of Shock Ice Cream, said she was issued the fine this month and paid it this week. The dispute sparked newspaper headlines in the seaside village and emerged as a political issue in this year's mayoral race.

"I paid the fine. Who won? They won? Do they think they won?" Richman said Thursday. "They won't even say it's a waste of our money. They could have put in a little park."

Westhampton Beach paid two attorneys -- Hermon Bishop and then Anthony Rattoballi -- a total of about $23,400 since 2012 to prosecute the infraction, Village Clerk Elizabeth Lindtvit said Thursday.

Village officials contended the cone was a sign erected by Richman without permission and in violation of a strict village ordinance to promote a "mellow" downtown. Richman argued the cone -- which contained no words -- was art.

Former Mayor Conrad Teller, who was in office during most of the case, said Thursday that he's "sorry to say we had to spend that kind of money" but it was warranted.

"As far as I'm concerned, we have to protect our ordinance," said Teller, who lost his bid for re-election in June. "If we just roll over and allow these people to do what they think they can do, we're not doing our duties."

Richman was issued a summons in July 2010 for displaying the man-sized waffle cone of mint, vanilla and strawberry ice cream outside her store on Main Street. She reported it stolen days later, and it was never found. She replaced it with a similar cone that is inside her shop.

The case, though, forged ahead for four years, even after a village justice dismissed it in 2012. The village board appealed the dismissal in Second Judicial Department Appellate Term in Brooklyn, which sent the case back to Westhampton Beach.

Richman said she lost the case after it returned to the village court for a bench trial before Justice Francis Fineo in September.

"Maybe I could have had it there, had I applied for a permit," she said of the fiberglass dessert. "I felt I didn't need a permit because I felt it's a piece of art."

Mayor Maria Moore highlighted the case as she ran for office this summer, saying it showed the village needed to soften penalties in its sign code. Moore, who defeated Teller, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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