Officers and truck supporters are seen during a protest at the...

Officers and truck supporters are seen during a protest at the Napeague beach in June 2021.

Credit: John Roca

A Suffolk Supreme Court judge last week issued a blistering decision in a case that pits the Town of East Hampton against waterfront homeowners in Napeague, finding top town officials in criminal and civil contempt for their failure to comply with a court order restricting vehicle access to a nearly mile-long stretch known as Truck Beach.

In his June 30 decision, Justice Paul Baisley Jr. found the Town of East Hampton and trustees, among others, in contempt of a 2021 appellate court ruling that required them to restrict vehicle access to the 4,000-foot-long beach. He fined the town the maximum $1,000 a day under criminal contempt rules, or $239,000 to be paid to homeowners, along with legal expenses that could amount to another $1 million.

Baisley further ordered the town to revoke “all permits issued by the town” to drive on the beach since February 2021 that are “not in compliance with the appellate division requirement to tell permit holders of restrictions for driving on Truck Beach.”

East Hampton Town on July 1 filed a notice of appeal for “each and every part” the decision. A call to Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc wasn't immediately returned. 

Separately, Baisley’s ruling could clarify a fishing right recognized in the appellate court ruling, with an order granting a request to move to East Hampton Town Justice Court the cases of 14 fishermen who held two protest truck drives on the beach last year. Homeowners had sought to combine those 14 cases of alleged trespass violations with their civil case.

In his ruling, Baisley noted that while the Feb. 3 appellate division ruling recognized an “easement allowing the public to use the homeowners associations’ portion of the beach only for fishing and fishing-related purposes,” it did not allow the town to “issue permits allowing members of the public to operate and park vehicles on any portion of the beach.”

Southampton lawyer Dan Rodgers, who represents the fishermen in the trespass cases and in a separate class-action lawsuit that contends all East Hampton residents were improperly denied fishing rights on the beach, said Baisley’s decision won’t impact his clients’ right to fish on the beach, for which they use trucks to haul nets.

“No, they’re not going to stop fishing on the beach,” Rodgers said Tuesday, adding that the latest ruling only demonstrates that “people who have money can get their way, and people who don’t have money can just move along.”

“We look forward to our day in court after almost a year of homeowners’ interfering" with fishermen's right to fish, Rodgers said.

James Catterson, an attorney for some of the homeowners, declined to comment specifically on Baisley's ruling, noting that the judge "said everything on the subject" with his contempt findings. "There's not much I can say to amplify that." 

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