November 4, 2011

A morning in court

I took today off so I could watch my town get sued.

I suspect the best summary of this morning's proceedings came at its end, from Judge Phillip Rumsey:

It's wonderful to have such excellent work from everyone. It makes my job ... harder.

Most of the arguments were familiar from the written submissions, though apparently there's been an additional round of filings I need to get. Update: It looks like they're available from the West firm, per One of Nine.

Arguing for Anschutz, Attorney Thomas West pushed for an interpretation of the Environmental Conservation Law that gave maximum power to the state and the Department of Environmental Conservation, while on the Dryden side Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins challenged that interpretation of the law's intent and made it very clear that whatever else the DEC may be, it is not a land use management organization. Towns are.

I thought Judge Rumsey asked slightly sharper questions of West than of Perkins, but that may simply be because of the nature of the arguments. West also seemed to reach a lot harder into realms like foreign policy and energy independence. Talking repeatedly about "clean-burning indigenous resources" sounded very strange after a little while.

There were a few surprises:

  • I didn't see anyone from the Dryden Safe Energy Coalition there. Has this case become too politically radioactive for them to show up?

  • There was a second (and third) attorney sitting with Mahlon Perkins at the respondents' table. If I got this right, he was Alan Knopf, working as an intervenor on behalf of the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition. His status in the case doesn't yet seem settled, and I guess it's the judge who determines it.

  • At one point, Tom West was going on at length about a missing DEC memorandum on the intent of the Environmental Conservation Law that no one could find. Judge Rumsey interrupted him eventually with "Mr. Perkins has it."

  • There were probably twenty Dryden residents there, and about as many people from elsewhere who have been working on this issue. Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton was there, and I saw people from Danby, Caroline, and Ithaca as well.

At least four Dryden Town Board members were there - I saw Supervisor Sumner, Steve Stelick, Joe Solomon, and Jason Leifer.

I think my favorite part of the proceeding came when Attorney Perkins asked whether natural gas companies are claiming more exemption from land use regulation than churches and schools. I need to take another look at the SGEIS, but Attorney West's sputtering reply about setbacks applies mostly to sources of water and not to other land uses.

Overall, this felt good for the Town, following the lines I described this morning.

While West was an excellent presenter, I thought he overreached badly a few times. Attorney Perkins did a great job outlining the questions in the case and why the court - not the DEC - has to be the one to decide this.

More soon.

Posted by simon at November 4, 2011 3:12 PM in , ,
Note on photos


Patrick Reynolds said:

Was there much local or national media there?

Talking about "clean-burning indigenous sources" and foreign policy seems much more aimed at media and the local electorate than at the judge. Judges don't normally concern themselves with energy independence.

It does seem like he was pitching his story to the media, but I didn't see a lot there - not too many people I didn't recognize (or was introduced to).

However, because New York doesn't allow electronic devices in court, I couldn't really pick anyone out of the crowd with a big video camera or something. I didn't see anything like that on the courthouse stairs, either, though.

We have been getting a lot more coverage lately, though, and I'll be keeping an eye out for more.