YOU GOTTA HAND IT to Sal Cascino. After spending a total of a year and a half locked up in the Columbia County Jail he has once again figured out how to game the system. This time his lawyer has convinced a state appellate court to set Mr. Cascino free while he appeals the finding that he’s in contempt of court.
Who could blame the Appellate Division for deciding that Mr. Cascino couldn’t be as bad as the contempt citation from acting State Supreme Court Judge Jonathan Nichols says he is. After all, Mr. Cascino is just your average Bronx waste hauler found guilty of illegally dumping construction and demolition waste along with who knows what else mixed in with it on fields he owns just southeast of the Copake hamlet.
As a judge hearing his appeal, you’d know that it’s not about whether Sal Cascino is guilty of the dumping. He is. The question comes down to whether he obeyed a court order to clean up a little bit of the mess he made, which is what Judge Nichols ordered him to do. And if you were an appeals court judge reviewing this case, you would think there must be some mistake in the record. Why would Mr. Cascino try to fool Judge Nichols, who ordered Mr. Cascino to remove the polluted materials? Surely Mr. Cascino, who had no credible proof of removing anything, didn’t think he could hoodwink a trial judge, did he?
And if you were judging his appeal you would scratch your head when you read that there is video of Mr. Cascino’s workers scooping up some of the illegally dumped waste and then dumping it a few yards away on another part of his property. No one, you would tell yourself, would have such brazen contempt for the order of a judge.
No one but Sal Cascino.
At least he’s consistent. He shows nothing but contempt for the law and the people who apply it. His continuing violations of local and state law suggest that he doesn’t believe, even now, that laws can stop him.
Or maybe he found illegal dumping so profitable that it was worth the risk. But there’s no way to know whether these theories are correct, because Mr. Cascino has not defended his dumping other than to label some of it as type of recycling, as if that makes it benign. If he has other justifications, he has not offered them for the public record.
Whatever it is that motivates him, it’s powerful. It can’t be easy for anyone, let alone a 78-year-old guy whose home is in Westchester County, to live behind bars at the Columbia County Jail. Is there something worse that would happen to him if he complies with Judge Nichols’ cleanup order?
It bears repeating that the purpose of jailing Mr. Cascino for contempt of court is not to punish him. It’s a way to force him to comply with the law. If he had produced evidence that he responsibly disposed of the pollution identified by Judge Nichols, the judge would have lifted the contempt order and Mr. Cascino would have been free long before now.
Good judges use their power to jail people for contempt sparingly. That might explain why the Appellate Division has let Mr. Cascino out of jail while reviewing the case. He hasn’t shown contempt for the appellate judges. Not yet, anyway.
If Mr. Cascino had used the money he’s spent on lawyers and spent it instead on responsibly removing his tainted debris, how many tons of that nasty stuff would be gone now? We’ll never know because Mr. Cascino shows no sign that he understands the harm he has done.
It’s possible the Appellate Division court will take pity on Mr. Cascino and accept the fairytales he calls evidence of his compliance. But the fact that he would appeal Judge Nichols’ order instead of beginning to remedy his mess means that his contempt is not limited to the court. It extends to the people of Copake and all their neighbors in Columbia County. We are victims of Mr. Cascino too and we appeal to the court to protect us, not him.