ELIZABETHTOWN - When Salim "Sandy" Lewis won a legal battle against the Adirondack Park Agency, he expected his money to be returned to him immediately. The state Attorney General's Office, however, was not going to let it go without a fight.
The APA had required Lewis Family Farm, the operation Lewis owns jointly with his wife, Barbara, to pay a civil penalty of $50,000 for failing to obtain a permit for their newly built farmworker houses.
The Lewises contested the fine, however, which led to a contentious lawsuit over the extent of APA jurisdiction.
Judge Richard B. Meyer, who presided over the case, granted a partial stay in April 2008 that still required the $50,000 to be paid while the case was in litigation. The Lewises appealed the stay, and the appellate court allowed for the money to instead be placed in escrow with the Essex County Treasurer's office.
According to Lewis, Essex County Treasurer Michael Diskin had agreed to release the money, with interest, if and when Meyer ruled in favor of Lewis Family Farm.
After Meyer delivered such a decision on Nov. 19, however, Lewis claims that Diskin requested poundage, a kind of holding fee that deducts two percent from the deposit. Lewis requested that the fee be waived since it was not mandatory, nor mentioned as part of their original agreement.
Meanwhile, lawyers from both sides contacted Meyer and Essex County Attorney Dan Manning, presenting their case for whether to release the funds.
Loretta Simon, Assistant Attorney General, argued that since it was the appellate court that ordered the funds to be placed in escrow, it would require an order from that same court to have the $50,000 released.
John Privitera, counsel for Lewis Family Farm, disagreed, saying that since Meyer's Nov. 19 decision vacated his April 11 stay as moot, there was no longer any legal basis for the $50,000 to be held.
The money could be held, Privitera said, if the Attorney General's office filed an appeal of Meyer's decision, but they had taken no such action.
Though he had planned to be out of the office that day, Manning sent a letter to both lawyers on Nov. 21 requesting a judge's order to release the funds. Meyer made such an order that same day in acceptance of Lewis Family Farm's proposed judgement.
"[Mrs. Simon's] objection is without merit," Meyer wrote, stating that the appellate order was only in effect pending his determination of the stay.
Anxious to have the $50,000 returned, Lewis took a copy of the order directly to the Essex County government building only to find that both Diskin and Manning were not present. According to Lewis, one county official requested police to come remove him from the building after he demanded to be put in contact with Manning.
Though the money was released to Lewis on Nov. 21, he argued that Simon acted improperly by encouraging Manning to withhold the funds, and that in turn, Manning, and Diskin acted improperly in delaying the release.
Manning, who had no involvement with the case prior to Nov. 20, said his request for an order was not meant to show partiality to either Lewis or the Attorney General's office, and that it was unfair for either side to pressure him toward a decision in the matter.
"I can tell you that he got his money a lot faster than he would have in any other county," Manning said.