A potential conflict of interest for Saugerties Town Justice Chris Kraft in the matter of accused illegal dumpsite owner Joe Karolys caused the trial on misdemeanor charges that Karolys accepted dumping of construction and demolition debris on his three Saugerties properties outside of a court-mandated 7 a.m.-3 p.m. window to be moved to Woodstock Town Court. Now, it seems another conflict of interest may result in the trial having to be moved again.
On Wednesday, Nov. 20, Karolys was in Woodstock Town Court before Justice Richard Husted. At the outset of the proceeding, Husted made both Saugerties Town Attorney John Greco and Karolys’ lawyer Melvin T. Higgins aware of what Husted termed a possible conflict of interest that could carry the “appearance of impropriety.”
“It came to my attention, as far as public information in the newspaper, that there was a protest,” said Husted. “On Facebook, there was a picture posted with a group of people [holding picket signs] that was [posted] by the Woodstock Land Conservancy.”
Husted continued, “I volunteer with the Woodstock Land Conservancy…I have, through the years, mowed a path through the field…I don’t know the position that [the Conservancy has] in this case…Now, I bring this forth asking counsel if there is objection to my participating with the Woodstock Land Conservancy.”
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to [Karolys] about this,” said Higgins. “There are additional news publications, a lot of them motivated by the Woodstock Land Conservancy…My client [should] be given an opportunity to consider this. Respectfully, I don’t think that three minutes [to decide] are enough.”
Higgins also said that he believes local media coverage may limit his client’s ability to have a fair trial by jury.
“The adverse notoriety that my client has received would not allow me to get an impartial jury in this town. [Woodstock] has a singular reputation for wanting to do things that are ecologically sound.”
Greco disagreed, and asked that the court records reflect that “the people are ready for this trial.”
“I’ve been involved in this case for two years now…I frankly have never heard of the Woodstock Land Conservancy and they’ve never been involved with this case,” said Greco. “I don’t see any nexus between you presiding over this case and the Woodstock Land Conservancy [sharing that article or photo on their Facebook page.] We have no objection whatsoever to you continuing on this case.”
Pending a definitive response on whether Karolys objects to Husted’s presiding over the matter, Husted adjourned the case tentatively until Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 1:30 p.m.
As the matter was discussed, Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. turned toward Councilwoman Leeanne Thornton, smirked and shook his head.
“We need a resolution to this, the residents that are being impacted need a resolution. This has been going on for so many months,” said Costello after court was adjourned. “The impacts continue and we think we’re right. It’s frustrating that we can’t get a court resolution to this issue.”
“This is just another sad stall tactic,” said resident Bill Ashmore of the events in court. “It’s going to continue on and on, that seems to be all we do…and the process continues to contaminate our soil.”