Judge: Upstate Bias Suit Can Proceed
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Judge: Upstate Bias Suit Can Proceed

Did Sullivan County towns discriminate against chasidic Jews in housing dispute?

A real estate developer has “provided detailed and legally sufficient allegations” to suggest that two Sullivan County municipalities “intentionally acted to discriminate against chasidic Jews” when they blocked construction of a 396-unit townhouse marketed to them.

That was the ruling of Manhattan Federal Judge Katherine Forrest in refusing Tuesday to dismiss a $25 million lawsuit by the developer and associates against the Village of Bloomingburg and the Town of Mamakating, in which Bloomingburg is located.

In allowing the case to proceed, Forrest said that based upon the details alleged it appears the village and its trustees “were motivated by discriminatory animus” in placing a series of obstacles in front of the developer, including a moratorium on all new construction.

She noted, for instance, that the village mayor, Frank Gerardi, allegedly “campaigned for office on a platform that openly opposed chasidic Jews moving into Bloomingburg; to have received political support from the Rural Community Coalition, an allegedly anti-chasidic organization; and to have referred to Jewish people as ‘those things.’”

The judge noted that the moratorium was passed after an appellate court blocked attempts to halt the development and “several months after a rising tide of anti-chasidic sentiment in the village led to the election of several individuals who had run on openly anti-chasidic platforms.”

In her 56-page decision, Forrest said the developer of the townhouse, Shalom Lamm, “adequately alleged” to have suffered financial injury due to the delays imposed by the village and town. And she ruled also that claims could proceed against the town and its trustees for allegedly wrongly blocking the conversion of a former spa in the village into a mikveh or Jewish ritual bath.

Both municipalities denied the allegations and filed their own suit against Lamm and his associates, alleging that they bribed and defrauded the municipalities and sought to take them over in order to push through the development.

In response, Lamm’s lawyers filed court papers last week alleging that the municipalities’ complaint was an apparent “public relations stunt” and that “stripped of the rhetoric and its unsupported legal assertions” it “alleges few particular actions by defendants, and none that would state a claim.”

“The complaint is filled with invective, hyperbole, and defamatory accusations” against the developer and “Bloomingburg’s chasidic Jewish citizens,” Lamm’s lawyers contended. They added that the suit questioned the integrity of a man recently elected to the village board.

“He is a chasidic Jew, which evidently is a sufficient accusation in the eyes of the current leaders of Mamakating and Bloomingburg,” the court papers alleged.

In her ruling, Forrest said the “picture painted by [Lamm’s] First Amended complaint is one of a concerted scheme actually carried out by political allies … who are all alleged to be involved with or supported by the RCC and the town and village government entities under their control to engage in a pervasive and wide-ranging scheme to keep chasidic Jews out of Bloomingburg. …

“Plaintiffs allege that they were deprived of equal protection of the law through defendants’ enactment of the moratorium and failure to issue certificates of occupancy for the [51] completed townhomes ….”

In addition, the judge noted that a co-founder of the RCC is the supervisor of Mamakating, Bill Herrmann, whom the court papers alleged “campaigned on the slogan ‘stop 400 from turning into 4000,’ and he is alleged to have said that he was elected to ‘stop the Jewish infiltration,’ and that he wanted to `keep Jews out of the area.’”

(Herrmann has told The Jewish Week that he never made those statements.)

A lawyer for the municipalities had no immediate comment.

stewart@jewishweek.org

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