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Judge appoints environmental expert to aid in Islip park lawsuit

Thomas Datre Jr., left, with his attorney Kevin

Thomas Datre Jr., left, with his attorney Kevin Kearon, inside the courtroom at First District Court in Central Islip on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Credit: James Carbone

A federal judge has appointed a special master in a lawsuit that New York State officials filed against Thomas Datre Jr. and other defendants over the dumping of tons of hazardous waste material into Roberto Clemente Park in Islip.

“Mindful of the overarching public interest in the prompt resolution of this matter, the overall magnitude, complexity and potential depth . . . the court finds . . . a clear need to appoint a special master to oversee the initial pretrial phase of this litigation,” Judge Sandra Feuerstein wrote in a Nov. 27 order.

State Attorney General Andrew Schneiderman’s office is representing Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos in the federal suit, which is seeking millions in damages against Datre Jr. and more than two dozen defendants for the lost use of the park when it was closed for cleanup. The state alleges in the filing that the defendants’ actions amount to negligence and a public nuisance. The park was closed from May 2014 until late July of this year.

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow a judge to appoint a special master — often an expert in a particular subject matter in complex issues or legal specialties — to address pretrial matters that cannot be addressed by an available judge quickly and in a timely matter.

Feuerstein appointed New York City-based attorney J. Kevin Healy, an expert in environmental and land use law, to be special master.

Healy is charged with issuing a report and recommendation to the court on motions to dismiss filed by the various parties and/or for judgment on all pleadings in the case.

Feuerstein ordered all parties in the case to share the cost of Healy’s services at a rate of $664 per hour.

Several of the parties objected, including attorneys for the state, who said the cost was an undue burden on taxpayers.

Feuerstein largely upheld her order in a decision issued Wednesday, only slightly narrowing the scope of Healy’s duties.

Attorneys for Datre Jr. and other defendants in the case have filed motions to dismiss the case, arguing the state’s complaint is invalid because it is identical to a lawsuit brought by the Town of Islip, and that the state’s claims are not timely.

The attorney general’s office filed a response in October, rejecting those arguments, asserting its authority to file a lawsuit, and urging the judge to not dismiss the case.

The agency filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Central Islip in May. It names many defendants who had not previously been named in connection with the dumping, newly targeting contractors who the state alleges were involved in transporting hazardous material to the park.

When announcing the filing earlier this year, Schneiderman said his office used GPS records obtained by its environmental protection bureau to track the truckloads back to 13 construction sites, mainly in New York City, but also in Nassau and Suffolk counties, where the debris originated.

Suffolk prosecutors have called Datre Jr. the “mastermind” behind the dumping scheme at Roberto Clemente Park and three other sites: an acre private lot in Central Islip; a six-home subdivision for veterans in Islandia; and a state-protected wetlands area in Deer Park.

Earlier this year, a state Supreme Court judge in Central Islip sentenced Datre Jr. to one year in jail for each of the four class E felonies he pleaded guilty to for the dumping at the sites. The sentences will run concurrently.

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