COPAKE—Salvatore Cascino deliberately disobeyed a court order then lied about why he did it on the witness stand, according to a decision issued June 9 by Acting State Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Nichols.
In his ruling on two show-cause orders filed by attorneys for the Town of Copake, Judge Nichols found Mr. Cascino guilty of both criminal and civil contempt for violating the November 27, 2006 temporary restraining order (TRO) that prohibited Mr. Cascino from constructing, excavating or depositing anything on his 300-acre property called Copake Valley Farm.
A resident of Larchmont, Mr. Cascino owns a Bronx-based waste-hauling business and has a 12-year history of violations of federal, state and town laws on his Copake property located along the east side of Route 22.
In the show cause orders—one dated August 3, 2007, the other dated September 18, 2008—the town alleged that Mr. Cascino poured concrete and installed lattice work at the former farmstand, 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 over his property.
Victor Meyers of Rapport, Meyers, Whitbeck, Shaw and Rodenhausen, LLP, attorneys for Copake, filed the orders and represented the town in court when a full evidentiary hearing on the town’s accusations was conducted November 13 and 14, 2008.
In his findings, Judge Nichols noted the clarity and unequivocal nature of the terms of the court’s restraining order.
Mr. Cascino was “not faced with an ambiguous order” but “an order that absolutely prohibited [him] from engaging in certain specific activities” and those prohibitions were expressed “in clear and explicit language,” wrote the judge.
Witnesses’ testimony for the town, which the judge found “entirely credible,” and particularly the photographic exhibits, “demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt” that Mr. Cascino had done all the things the town alleged, Judge Nichols wrote.
Because Mr. Cascino continued to pursue forbidden activities in the face of the restraining order, the judge found that the town had “clearly established” its case for criminal contempt, “making it incumbent” upon Mr. Cascino, represented by Albany Attorney Dennis Schlenker, “to establish good cause for that non-compliance,” said the judge in his decision.
But after considering Mr. Cascino’s testimony, observing his demeanor and assessing his truthfulness, the court found Mr. Cascino “lacking in veracity and… not credible.”
The judge characterized Mr. Cascino’s testimony that his actions “were prompted by exigent circumstances and the need to conform to terms of the [state Department of Environmental Conservation] consent decree” as an after-the-fact “attempt to justify the acts… as opposed to an accurate recital of why the acts were necessary.”
Also, Judge Nichols found witnesses called in Mr. Cascino’s defense to be similarly “lacking in credibility.”
Since Mr. Cascino had made several attempts to get the restraining order modified, the judge concluded that Mr. Cascino was not only “well aware of the restrictions the order imposed” but that he also “willfully flouted the TRO.”
Judge Nichols also found Mr. Cascino in civil contempt of the restraining order because the town “suffered prejudice.”
The town’s ability to present its case that Mr. Cascino had violated Town Code and have the court intervene “was stripped of any real or actual meaning by [Mr. Cascino’s] conduct,” the judge wrote.
Mr. Cascino “essentially presented [the town] with a fait accompli relative to the very matters that caused the [town] to seek judicial intervention by the Court,” the judge concluded.
On his finding of criminal contempt, Judge Nichols fined Mr. Cascino $250 and sentenced him to a suspended sentence of 30 days in the Columbia County Jail.
On his finding of civil contempt, the judge directed Mr. Cascino to:
•Remove the stone wall and all the materials deposited on his property in contravention of the restraining order
•Immediately cease and desist all construction work on the farm stand and perform no more work until further order of the court
•Pay the town reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees expended in the course of prosecuting the contempt case.
Judge Nichols gave the town 20 days to submit an itemized claim for attorneys’ fees and expenses to the court and gave Mr. Cascino 20 days to submit his opposition to the town’s claim.
If the parties do not come to a mutual agreement about the fees and expenses, the judge will schedule a hearing on the issue.
“It’s a great day for Copake,” said Town Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia, the Town Board’s liaison on Cascino matters and the defendant in a lawsuit threatened by Mr. Cascino for allegedly calling him a criminal in an article in the Register-Star newspaper. Ms. Gabaccia denies the claim.
The councilwoman expressed gratitude to Mr. Meyers and his associate Carl Whitbeck for their “excellent representation,” thanks to Judge Nichols for “helping protect us” with his decision, and thanks to Assemblyman Marcus Molinaro (R-103rd) and State Senator Steve Saland (R-41st) “for their continuing efforts on our behalf.”
“Copake should feel vindicated, the little guy stood up and won,” she said, pointing out the need for continued vigilance in the reporting of violations at the Cascino property.
“But for today we can savor the victory,” she said.
Judge Nichols’ decision is “welcome news,” said Assemblyman Molinaro, noting the property owner in this case has “consistently pushed the envelope” with regard to the law and “needs to be held accountable.”
Judge Nichols’ ruling on the town’s lawsuit against Mr. Cascino for failure to comply with Town Code remains outstanding in the ongoing litigation, according to Mr. Meyers. Proceedings in that matter were conducted in State Supreme Court in February and March of this year.
Mr. Schlenker was out of town and not available for comment on the decision.
Copake Town Supervisor Reggie Crowley did not return a call for comment on the decision by press deadline.
To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@ColumbiaPaper.com