Once together, now apart, contempt cases drag on

CLAVERACK—After a heated exchange with Salvatore Cascino’s defense attorney, Acting State Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols severed the two contempt cases that were the subject of a second day of hearings at the temporary county courthouse August 8.

By severing the cases the judge will now hear evidence on each one separately. He announced his decision after repeatedly admonishing the defense for asking irrelevant questions and trying to “conflate” the two issues.

The parties will now have to return to court to conclude their presentations, possibly in September, but more likely in December, when the judge cleared his calendar for a week to deal with the case.

Testimony on two orders to show cause why Mr. Cascino should not be held in contempt of court filed by the Town of Copake resumed last week with the continued cross examination of Copake Building Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer Edward Ferratto by Cascino defense attorney Brian Gardner. The cross examination began after lunch July 31 and dragged on for most of the day last Thursday.

Mr. Cascino, 73, a convicted scofflaw, lives in Larchmont and owns 300 acres along the east side of Route 22, across from the southern entrance to the Copake hamlet. He calls the place Copake Valley Farm and for the past 16 years has racked up violations of federal, state and town laws there for illegal dumping, building and excavating without proper permits.

Mr. Cascino was found guilty of both civil and criminal contempt in 2009.

Judge Nichols has so far issued two restraining orders against Mr. Cascino, which the town, represented by Attorney Victor Meyers, alleges Mr. Cascino has ignored.

During the cross examination, Mr. Gardner tried to get Mr. Ferratto to agree with his assertions about the Town Code, State Building Code and state Department of Agriculture and Markets Law.

But for the most part Mr. Ferratto did not agree, noting that according to Town Code any material brought in from off-site is illegal. Mr. Gardner then implied that the material brought in by Mr. Cascino was used for farming. Mr. Ferratto had previously described the material as “aggregate” containing pieces of plastic, copper wire, rusted pipe, brick and stone.

“It did not look to me like material used for farming,” said Mr. Ferratto.

Mr. Gardner questioned how Mr. Ferratto knew what it was used for, “Are you a farmer yourself?” he asked.

The building inspector said he went to the Cascino property to investigate complaints by residents who saw the material being trucked in. He said he did not know where it was brought in from and “what [Mr. Cascino] thought about using it for I don’t know.”

After establishing that Mr. Ferratto had been on the Cascino property several times to investigate dumping complaints, Mr. Gardner wanted to know if Mr. Ferratto had told Mr. Cascino not to dump anymore every time he visited the property.

“He was already told, I did not tell him again, I notified the town attorney,” said Mr. Ferratto.

Mr. Gardner then referred to an October 2012 Appellate Division decision that upheld and slightly modified Judge Nichols’ judgment that found Mr. Cascino in criminal and civil contempt in 2010.

Mr. Gardner pointed out that the appellate decision said Mr. Cascino could engage construction and excavation in furtherance of farming operations so long as he obtained building permits as required by Town Code.

But Mr. Ferratto noted that a building permit is required not only for construction, but also for excavation under Town Code.

“Even for farming operations?” Mr. Gardner asked. “Yes,” said Mr. Ferratto.

Mr. Gardener then went on to ask Mr. Ferratto about permit requirements under state Building Code and Ag and Markets Law, asking Mr. Ferratto if he would agree that structures used for agricultural purposes would be exempt.

After extensive discussion about Mr. Cascino’s mulching/composing building, which Mr. Gardner referred to as a hay storage building, Mr. Gardner asked what type of agricultural building would be exempt from needing a permit.

“None,” said Mr. Ferratto, “all buildings need to meet zoning requirements.”

The defense attorney later asked Mr. Ferratto if he had enforced Town Codes for “bringing in dirt” against any other farmer in town.

“I don’t care about any other farms. I care about this property,” declared Judge Nichols.

Throughout the testimony Judge Nichols repeatedly sustained objections by Mr. Meyers about the relevance of Mr. Gardner’s cross examination questions.

“We’re not here to talk about things that might be,” the judge told Mr. Gardner.

The judge told Mr. Gardner that he was “wasting time with meandering discussions.”

Mr. Gardner said he wanted to make the point that the town had determined that the property was being used as a farm and that up until 2010 the town had pursued enforcement against Mr. Cascino “hot and heavy” and then stopped.

Mr. Meyers told the court Mr. Gardner’s assertions were “sheer nonsense” and that the town had continued its legal action against Mr. Cascino.

Interjecting that Mr. Gardner’s argument seemed like “a smoke screen,” Judge Nichols said, “You can argue this till the cows come home… be specific, deal with the issues before me.”

After cross examination by Mr. Gardner and redirect by Mr. Meyers were complete at about 3 p.m. Judge Nichols announced his decision to sever the two orders to show cause in an attempt to put an end to the conflation of the two and stop irrelevant discussion.

The next court date may occur in September if the judge gets a break in his schedule or if not, it will have to wait until December.

To contact Diane Valden email

 

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