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New Lebanon justice suit postponed

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NEW LEBANON—A state court hearing on the suit brought by Town Justice Darcy Poppey and the countermotions filed by senior Town Justice Shaun McHugh, Court Clerk Marianne Renfro and Town Attorney Jason Shaw was postponed last Thursday, August 20.
The new date is next Thursday, September 3, according to Town Attorney Jason Shaw.
Although not named in the suit, Justice McHugh and Clerk Renfro are petitioning to be allowed to “intervene” in the case.
Ms. Poppey’s request that the court immediately increase the salary of Deputy Court Clerk Diane Brown pending determination of the case was denied by presiding state Supreme Court Judge Patrick J. McGrath. He heard the case at the Columbia County Courthouse in Hudson.
In her suit, Ms. Poppey seeks to prohibit the Town Board from “changing the hours and status” of the deputy court clerk. It also seeks back pay for Ms. Brown, as well as “all fees and costs” to Ms. Poppey, who is representing herself.
Mr. Shaw has responded with a motion to dismiss the suit and a memorandum of law in support of that motion on behalf of those named in Justice Poppey’s suit: Town Supervisor Margaret Robertson, Town Clerk Colleen Teal, each of the members of the Town Board and Mr. Shaw.
Mr. Shaw’s motion says that Justice Poppey’s suit “is without merit. However its lack of merit is academic because the petition is untimely.”

Ms. Poppey’s suit is a civil action under Article 78 of the state Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR), a provision of law frequently used when individuals or groups seek to challenge the actions or inactions of a government agency.
But Mr. Shaw says that an Article 78 action must begin within 120 days of the alleged wrong, and Ms. Poppey’s suit concerns a Town Board action that took place last November.
The 454-page filing by Mr. Poppey asks the court to force the town to comply with an alleged agreement between the two justices to assign one clerk to each court, with equal pay and equal hours.
Last fall the Town Board retained the existing system of a clerk and a deputy, and Mr. Shaw’s motion says that an agreement between the justices concerning their use of the non-judicial town employees “does not and cannot control the Town’s budgetary decisions concerning town employee salaries.”  The town’s actions, the motion continues, were “firmly grounded in law.”

One item not previously made public was revealed in the documents that are part of Ms. Poppey’s suit. She is currently under investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The motions will be heard beginning at 9:30 a.m.

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