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Lewis, APA dispute over legal fees

ELIZABETHTOWN - An Essex farmer's attempt to recover more than $200,000 in legal fees from the Adirondack Park Agency will be on a public stage next week.

Salim B. "Sandy" Lewis has asked the court to grant him roughly $208,000 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 near Whallonsburg.

The motion for fees is the latest episode in the years-long legal battle, and requires the APA to prove they were "substantially justified" in their pursuit of a favorable ruling.

An Oct. 29 hearing is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the Essex County Courthouse where Judge Richard B. Meyer will hear oral arguments from both sides.

In March 2008, the agency had fine Lewis Family Farm $50,000 for failing to obtain APA permits for three modular homes built for employees of the farm, which is on land classified as resource management. Lewis contested the enforcement, however.

A mid-level appeals court ruled unanimously against the APA in July after Meyer had decided in favor of the farm in November 2008. The state declined any further appeals. Now, Lewis is confident for another precedent-setting decision in his favor.

"This would establish that when the citizen is abused by government, good counsel can come in with the expectation to win and to be paid by government," Lewis said.

The New York Farm Bureau has supported Lewis in the case and will file yet another brief in the latest motion. Erik Leerkes, a Ticonderoga dairy farmer and president of the Essex County Farm Bureau, said the decision on this issue has far-reaching implications.

"It's pretty important because of the tactics the APA has used over the years," he said. "They go after you whether they're right or wrong."

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