Waste hauler’s lawyer grills Copake’s lawyer over bills
HUDSON–Salvatore Cascino’s attorney was back in court on his client’s behalf September 3 to dispute the amount of money for attorney fees that his client must pay to the Town of Copake.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Nichols found Mr. Cascino guilty of both criminal and civil contempt June 9 for violating a 2006 temporary restraining order that prohibited Mr. Cascino from constructing, excavating or depositing anything on his 300-acre property called Copake Valley Farm. As part of his decision, Judge Nichols ordered Mr. Cascino to:
*Remove a stone wall and all the materials deposited on his property that were put there in violation of the restraining order
*Cease all construction work on a building he calls a farm stand
*Pay the town reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees expended in the course of prosecuting the contempt case.
The firm of Rapport Meyers Whitbeck Shaw and Rodenhausen LLP charges the town a “blended municipal rate” of $175 per hour, and as of September 2 the firm’s fees for the contempt case added up to $22,274.97, according to Copake Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia, the Town Board’s representative on Cascino matters. The town hasn’t seen any of that money.
Mr. Cascino is a resident of Larchmont who owns a Bronx-based waste hauling business. For the past 12 years he has amassed violations of federal, state and town law on his property along the east side of Route 22.
Ms. Gabacia, who was in the courtroom last Thursday, said that the entire one-and-a-half-hour hearing was taken up with Mr. Cascino’s attorney, Dennis B. Schlenker, questioning the town’s attorney, Victor Meyers, about his system of billing the town for his firm’s services with regard to legal actions against Mr. Cascino. Since the judge’s ruling calls for Mr. Cascino to pay the town only the amount the town spent on legal fees associated with the contempt case, the challenge appears to rest on whether those fees are shown separately from fees the firm charged for other matters.
Although Judge Nichols has ruled in the contempt case, the town’s main lawsuit against Mr. Cascino is for alleged illegal dumping and building things without permits in violation of Copake Town Code. That case was the subject of a three-day hearing in February and March, but the judge has not yet issued a decision. Town and state officials, as well as residents, say they have seen construction and demolition debris dumped at the site. Mr. Cascino does not have a permit to dump waste there.
The town lodged its contempt suit after Mr. Cascino violated the restraining order, proving to Judge Nichols that Mr. Cascino poured concrete and installed lattice work at the former farm stand, excavated, constructed a stone wall and a concrete foundation, trucked in and dumped “materials” on the property and used a bulldozer to spread the stuff out, all of which was prohibited under the order. An evidentiary hearing on the town’s contempt accusations was conducted November 13 and 14, 2008.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Mr. Meyers said that having the lawyer for one side of a case question the opposing counsel sometimes happens when an attorney has to testify about the value of his services. And while he could have had another attorney present to cross-examine him, it was not necessary, he said. “I testified to what I wanted to testify to.”
Mr. Meyers said Mr. Schlenker questioned him about how he kept the records. “I think it was pretty clear that the records were kept in the ordinary course of business” and in a manner consistent with the way it is done by other attorneys, he said. “I think it went well and that I showed the time spent was reasonable. I’m optimistic that the town will get most if not all of the fees back,” said Mr. Meyers.
Ms. Gabaccia agreed. “I’m confident a good portion of the attorneys’ fees will come back to the town,” she said.
Asked if the judge will also decide a date by when the money has to be paid, Mr. Meyers said, “I hope so.”
In the event Mr. Cascino does not pay the money to the town, Mr. Meyers said, “We could get a judgment against him and put a lien on his property.”
According to Mr. Meyers, Mr. Cascino has filed a notice of his intention to appeal the judge’s findings of criminal and civil contempt.
Mr. Cascino is also seeking a stay of the ruling pending his appeal of the $250 fine the judge directed him to pay as a result of the criminal contempt finding and the actions the judge directed him to perform as a result of the civil contempt finding, said Mr. Meyers
Judge Nichols gave Mr. Schlenker until September 11 to submit written briefs in the case; Mr. Meyers until September 18 to respond.
The judge’s decision will then follow.
Mr. Schlenker did not return a call for comment on the hearing.
To contact Diane Valden email .