Chester seeks recusal of judge in discrimination case against Hasidic housing – Lohud

Posted By on May 21, 2020

Chris McKenna, Times Herald-Record Published 2:39 p.m. ET May 19, 2020

CHESTER - Town attorneys filed court papers on Monday indicating they will ask a federal judge to recuse himself from a discrimination case brought against Chester and Orange County by the developers of the 431-home Greens at Chester development.

The attorneys told District Court Judge Philip Halpern in a letter that they recently learned that he served as a court-appointed mediator in a separate lawsuit against the town that makes similar claims of trying to block new housing for Hasidic families. They asked for a court conference before filing a motion for Halpern to recuse himself or be disqualified.

We believe we have both a professional and ethical duty to raise this issue, wrote Mary Marzolla of Feerick Nugent MacCartney, the South Nyack firm representing Chester, the Town Board and three current and former town officials.

Marzolla said that Halpern was given confidential information in his role as mediator, and that her firm had gotten a written opinion that day from an ethics expert that supported a case for recusal.

Greens at Chester, phase one, taken Aug. 15, 2019.(Photo: Times Herald-Record file photo)

The 2019 Greens at Chester lawsuit accuses town and Orange County officials of trying to impede construction of an approved housing project because of local opposition to an expected influx of Hasidic families. The developers, who have built infrastructure for the project but were twice denied permits to start building houses, are seeking $100 million in damages and permission to proceed with the work.

State Attorney General Letitia James office filed a court complaint in support of the developers last week, concurring with their civil rights claims and seeking a broader court order to prevent further discrimination. James asked that the town be forbidden to enforce any new laws meant to discriminate based on religion and familial status, and that it be monitored by the court and others to ensure compliance.

Halpern had issued an order on May 8 that allowed James to intervene in the case, as she had asked to do in December. He also rejected a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and delayed ruling on whether the defendants could be sued in their individual capacities. The towns attorneys have appealed that second decision.

Halpern had taken over the case from another judge on March 17, his second day on the bench. Halpern, a former managing partner of a White Plains law firm, was appointed to the district court by President Donald Trump in 2018 and confirmed by the Senate in February of this year.

Halpern was appointed mediator in 2018 for a case brought by the late Steve Sherman, who tried in vain for years to get approval for the 397-home Chester Golf Club project and said the town repeatedly blocked him. That long-running lawsuit, taken over by Shermans widow after his death in 2013, claims the town resisted the project out of fears it would become a Hasidic community.

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Chester seeks recusal of judge in discrimination case against Hasidic housing - Lohud

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