Playing on a neutral field for the first time, the Village of Westhampton Beach obtained the legal decision it had sought in the polarizing Shock Ice Cream sign case.
The Appellate Term of the New York State Supreme Court of the Ninth and Tenth Judicial Districts, by a unanimous decision of the Panel, decided the question of "Did the municipality get a fair shake in its own Justice Court?"
And Shock's proprietrix Elyse Richman is going to have to live with the answer: "No, it didn't!"
It wasn't a cheap victory for the Village, running in excess of $15,000 in legal fees, but several things emerged, the most critical ones being:
- The Village's Sign Code is defensible in front of an impartial judiciary.
- The Village Justice Court has not been an impartial judiciary.
This particular case, one involving the giant ice cream cone Ms. Richman had affixed to the wall of the alley leading to her Shock Ice Cream store, has been a divisive one from the start.
Shortly after the item was mounted, Shock was issued an Order to Remedy, and when that went unaddressed, she was issued a Summons returnable in Village Justice Court.
Almost immediately thereafter, the cone was taken leading some to opine that the Village was behind the vandalism.
When Ms. Richman finally did show up in court, Justice Robert A. Kelly Jr. dismissed the charge because, well, that's what Gus does, and is one of the contributing factors in Westhampton Beach Justice Court operating in the red1 for 13 of the last 15 years.
Following a full re-presentation of the municipality's case by then Village Attorney Hermon "Bo" Bishop, Associate Justice Lee Sneed again dismissed the case, seemingly out of hand.
It was Sneed's manner and language2 that the Judicial Panel was most critical of in reversing the decision "on the law and the facts," and remanding the case to the original court "to be heard by a different judge."
Vindication or Validation? Stay tuned!