A New York Southern District Court Judge has granted an extension in the civil rights lawsuit against Village of Montgomery Mayor L. Stephen Brescia.
Judge Philip M. Halpern granted a letter motion for an extension of time to complete discovery in the case filed in July of 2019. A status conference originally scheduled for July 7, has been adjourned until August 18, when it will be held telephonically.
Plaintiffs Jessica Gocke, Susan Cockburn and Deborah Corr filed the lawsuit in United States Southern District Court in White Plains in July of last year, alleging that Brescia violated their civil rights by not allowing them to speak at a June 4, 2019 Montgomery Village Board meeting concerning a proposed Medline warehouse in the Town of Montgomery. The village is named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit.
Plaintiffs Gocke and Corr are described in court papers as being “prominently associated with Concerned Citizens for the Hudson Valley, an advocacy group organized to prevent the over-development and environmental degradation of Orange County.”
Cockburn, a former Town of Montgomery Supervisor, is described in court papers as “a politically active Democrat who attends public meetings and states her views on critical issues.”
Brescia, in addition to being mayor, is also chairman of the Orange County Legislature and Secretary to the Orange County Industrial Development Agency. He is the Republican candidate for State Senate’s 39th District seat currently occupied by James Skoufus (D-Woodbury).
The plaintiffs, according to court papers, attended the June 4, 2019 village board meeting concerning Medline at the Montgomery Senior Center. Brescia, in his capacity as mayor of the village, presided over the meeting.
The complaint, filed in Southern District Court on July 4, 2019, alleges that Gocke, a town of Crawford and Valley Central School District resident expressed an intent to speak.
“Defendant Brescia told her she could not speak at the meeting because she opposed projects everywhere in the county and then had her escorted out of the meeting by uniformed police officers.” (She would later be permitted to return).
“At the same time,” the complaint continues, “defendant Brescia also singled out plaintiff Gocke’s mother (Corr) stating that she too could not speak.”
“Finally, defendant Brescia disallowed former Town Supervisor Cockburn from the meeting, claiming that she could not speak because she is not a village resident and threatening to have her escorted from the meeting room is she persisted in trying to speak. At his request, uniformed police officers laid hands on plaintiff Cockburn and began escorting (her) from the room.”
The suit alleges that Brescia allowed other non-village residents to speak and, in barring assumed viewpoints opposing Medline, the mayor engaged in “impermissible viewpoint discrimination” in violation of the plaintiffs’ First Amendment Rights. The suit further alleges that Brescia “has engaged in similar conduct on prior occasions, silencing those who oppose projects he supports.”
According to court records, summonses against Brescia and the Village of Montgomery were issued July 20, 2019, with letter motions for extensions filed by the defendants shortly thereafter.
Several motions for extensions were granted by Judge Cathy Seibel until her patience was apparently challenged in February of this year.
“I was clear at the initial conference how I feel about requests to extend discovery that, like this one, come at the eleventh hour,” wrote Seibel on Feb. 27, in an order denying another notion for extension. “I was also clear how I feel about requests that, like this one, do not include a good reason. The fact that the parties may be trying to settle does not excuse them from following court orders. If they want to be so excused, they have to promptly ask and see if they get excused. They can’t just let deadlines pass and assume they will get an extension, as I made clear. This is not a complicated case and I gave the parties what they requested for discovery. If they choose not to use the time, that is their call.”
On March 17, the case was re-assigned to Judge Halpern who subsequently ordered that conferences be conducted by telephone conference call, rather than in court, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Halpern would grant two more extensions at the request of Leo Dorfman, attorney for the defendants, on April 8, and again on June 29.