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May 4, 2011 9:30 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Eruv Association Heads To Court Seeking Temporary Injunction

May 4, 2011 10:39 AM

A U.S. District Court judge is expected to decide within the next few weeks whether a nonprofit can temporarily establish a symbolic religious boundary in western Southampton Town until a final ruling is made on litigation filed earlier this year over the application.

Attorneys representing the East End Eruv Association, the group that is looking to establish the boundary known as an eruv—which would encompass most of Westhampton Beach Village and parts of Quogue Village and the hamlet of Westhampton—went before U.S. District Court Judge Leonard D. Wexler in Central Islip last Friday, April 29. They were seeking a preliminary injunction to establish the largely invisible boundary, which would be demarcated by wooden markers—known as “lechis”—and affixed to utility poles, while a lawsuit works its way through the courts.

According to Brian Sokoloff, a Westbury attorney representing Westhampton Beach—one of the three defendants in the lawsuit—Judge Wexler is expected to make a ruling on the temporary injunction within the next few weeks. The other defendants in the litigation are Quogue Village and Southampton Town, both of which have also stated that they would not approve the proposed boundary.

“I was told that a decision [on the motion] could be reached within a few weeks,” Mr. Sokoloff said this week.

If granted, the injunction would effectively prevent the two villages and Southampton Town from taking any action that would prevent the East End Eruv Association from establishing the eruv until the group’s lawsuit is ruled upon. Previously, the organization has argued that the boundary is needed to allow Orthodox Jews to push and carry objects, like baby strollers and wheelchairs, to temple on the Sabbath.

Robert G. Sugarman, the Manhattan attorney representing the association, did not return calls this week seeking comment on the injunction.

The legal debate centers on the association’s request to create an eruv, an Orthodox Jewish religious boundary, around Westhampton Beach and Quiogue that would also cut into parts of Quogue and Westhampton. Last fall, Verizon and the Long Island Power Authority were prepared to allow the organization to attach the markings to its utility poles. The association sued the villages and town in January after officials in all three municipalities stated that they would not sign off on the request, noting that such an application falls under their respective jurisdictions.

Westhampton Beach, Quogue and Southampton Town officials have until Monday, May 9, to respond to the preliminary injunction. Once that deadline passes, the eruv association will have until Friday, May 13, to respond in kind.

Jeltje deJong of the Smithtown law firm Devitt Spellman Barrett, LLP, the attorney representing Quogue Village in the lawsuit, said this week that after Judge Wexler rules on the association’s motion, lawyers representing the defendants would then file a cross motion that seeks to dismiss the lawsuit. In a letter dated April 4 and sent to Judge Wexler, Ms. deJong outlined the reasons that the court should dismiss the charges filed against Quogue.

“The Village has strong arguments which will establish that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction,” Ms. deJong stated in the letter. “In light of this alone, in the event that this Court should dismiss this matter on jurisdictional grounds, this Court would lack the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction.

Maureen T. Liccione of Jaspan Schlesinger LLP in Garden City, who represents the Village of Westhampton Beach, added that the association has not yet indicated the exact boundaries of the desired eruv. In addition, Ms. Liccione said, attorneys representing the municipalities plan to argue that Verizon overstepped its authority by granting an outside organization access to its utility poles.

When reached on Tuesday, Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller said he was not aware of the recent court proceedings.

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