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Farmer seeks legal fees from APA

LAKE PLACID - The state has declined any further appeals in its legal battle with Lewis Family Farm, but the case is not over.

At an Aug. 20 press conference in Lake Placid, Salim B. "Sandy" Lewis announced his decision to seek $208,000 from the APA to pay for his legal fees in a dispute that twice rejected an agency claim to jurisdiction over three houses on his 1200-acre organic farm in Essex.

When asked why he chose to do so, Lewis simply replied, "It's just."

John Privitera, counsel for Lewis Family Farm, Inc., said New York's Equal Access to Justice statute provides a remedy for parties subjected to unwarranted lawsuits from the state.

"It's part of the risk the agency assumed when they decided to test... their sadly mistaken view of the law by pursing an expensive and debilitating enforcement action against a small business," he said.

The case arose out of an APA determination to assess a $50,000 fine on the farm for building three two-story homes on resource management land without an APA permit. A cease-and-desist order prevented further construction on the unfinished homes.

In November 2008, however, Acting Essex County Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Meyer ruled in favor of Lewis Family Farm, finding that the houses were for agricultural use and therefore exempt from APA permit requirements.

Represented by State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office, the APA appealed the decision, but a five-member mid-level appeals court unanimously affirmed Meyer's ruling in their July 16 decision.

The loss represented the first major one for the APA in an Article 78 proceeding.

"Until this case, the APA had an aura of invincibility," said Lewis, who claimed previous attempts to challenge the agency have failed because too many area attorneys seek advice from the APA on how to handle cases against them.

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