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Feb 9, 2015 3:30 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Civil Lawsuit Against Former East Hampton Town Supervisor Dismissed

Feb 10, 2015 4:05 PM

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed against former East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson was dismissed at the end of January.

The suit had been filed by Montauk resident Harry Ellis, who alleged that Mr. Wilkinson violated his civil rights by creating a “campaign of unlawful, malicious retaliation, selective enforcement and invidious discrimination” against him over their disagreement on a stormwater retention pond near his property.

In his decision, Judge Joseph F. Bianco of the U.S. District Court in Central Islip said the case was “time-barred,” meaning it was filed beyond the statute of limitation, in 2014, when the events occurred in 2010. He added that damages must be “actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical,” and thus the damages sought by Mr. Ellis were invalid.

The lawsuit alleged that Mr. Wilkinson, over the course of his four years as supervisor, targeted Mr. Ellis because he had played a “lead role in investigating, documenting and reporting serious acts of illegal dredging and other environmentally destructive activities on Lake Montauk by Keith Grimes.”

Because Mr. Ellis had brought the issues to the public’s attention, the State Department of Environmental Conservation slapped Mr. Grimes, an excavating contractor, with at least 20 notices of violation, resulting in fines totaling thousands of dollars, according to the lawsuit.

Over the next few months, allegedly in retaliation, Mr. Wilkinson “ordered” Mr. Ellis and his family to stop using a town-owned 0.76-acre strip of wetlands next to their residence so that a stormwater retention pond could be constructed, the lawsuit said. The Ellises had been using part of that land for their driveway. He called the retention pond a “massive excavation” and a “terrific mosquito haven.”

In 2011, Mr. Ellis filed an action in State Supreme Court alleging that the town did not own the wetlands, and that he actually owned an easement where the retention pond was being constructed. The project has been discontinued until a decision is rendered.

Judge Bianco said that since the project was halted and may be terminated if the State Supreme Court rules that Mr. Ellis does, in fact, own the rights to the wetlands parcel, his claims in the federal action are “speculative at best.”

The lawsuit against Mr. Wilkinson was dismissed without prejudice, which means that Mr. Ellis would be able to bring a new claim with an amendment.

Victor John Yannacone Jr., the attorney representing Mr. Ellis, did not return calls for comment this week about the ruling or whether Mr. Ellis will file again.

And while Mr. Wilkinson declined to comment, his attorney, Steven C. Stern of Sokoloff Stern LLP., said the lawsuit was a ploy.

“Mr. Ellis used this lawsuit to try and leverage his other pending lawsuit over ownership of the land and get some press for that,” Mr. Stern said. “Clearly, it was time-barred at the outset and frivolous. We sought sanctions, and while the judge didn’t give us sanctions, it seemed to be a close call.”

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