Fishermen charged in Truck Beach trespass case say delay in proceedings violates right to due process
East Hampton fishermen rallied on the steps of the Supreme Court building in Riverhead last week to decry actions tied to a civil case that they said not only deprives them of beach rights but threatens their right to due process.
Last month, a Suffolk County Supreme Court justice temporarily delayed criminal proceedings against the 14 East Hampton residents cited for trespassing on an Amagansett beach known as Truck Beach and long popular for 4x4 vehicles. The men were issued the summons during an Oct. 17 act of civil disobedience they hoped would serve as a test case for access to the beach. A court decision earlier this year declared the beach private property, but that ruling also upheld an easement for fishing.
A lawyer for nearby residents filed a request to shift the criminal violations into the existing civil proceeding, although Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Paul Baisley Jr. has yet to rule on that request.
Eleven of the 14 men charged with trespass appeared on the steps of the courthouse Thursday to protest the case.
"This has always been a right," said Greg Monaco, a driver from East Hampton who was charged with trespass during the protest and said his grandfather was a bayman. "It's called Truck Beach, right? They [oceanfront homeowners] knew the rules when they bought the house, they knew what the deed said."
Stephen Angel, a Riverhead-based attorney representing the homeowners, filed the request on Nov. 3. The order, if granted, would remove the 14 trespassing summons and consolidate them with the civil action that has been in state court since 2009. The case was decided after the state Court of Appeals in September declined East Hampton Town’s request to appeal it.
Angel could not immediately be reached for comment.
Dan Rodgers, who is representing the men charged with trespass, said he is considering filing a class action lawsuit against the homeowners on behalf of all East Hampton Town residents.
"We believe the homeowners have first stolen the beach and now they're stealing their rights," he said. "The homeowners caused harm, not only to these commercial and recreational fisherman but also to every single resident of the town."
Meanwhile, attorneys for East Hampton Town are also opposing the motion to consolidate the trespassing charge cases into the civil proceeding. They are also asking the court to throw out or modify a June restraining order directing the town to bar people from the beach.
"That motion is unprecedented, statutorily unauthorized, and beyond the Court's jurisdiction," East Hampton’s outside attorney Christopher McDonald wrote of the consolidation request in a Nov. 19 memorandum of law.
Of the restraining order, McDonald said it "exceeded the limited injunctive relief awarded in the Final Judgment and failed to recognize the public's easement rights."
Rodgers said he feared the Truck Beach case could set a precedent and influence other Hamptons oceanfront property orders to file litigation seeking to bar the public from the sand.
"What's going to happen to our beaches that we're renowned for," he said.
New in the "Truck Beach" case:
Fishermen charged with criminal trespass in October said a delay in the proceedings violates their right to due process
Attorney Dan Rodgers said he is considering filing a class action law suit on behalf of all East Hampton residents against the oceanfront homeowners
Attorneys for East Hampton Town have asked a judge not to consolidate 14 trespassing violations with a civil motion and to vacate or modify a previous restraining order