By Dan Hust
BETHEL Roy Howard and Jeryl Abramson and their company, Yasgur Road Productions (YRP), may have to pay $25,000 to the Town of Bethel, but that doesn’t mean the court battle is over.
In fact, it may be opening on another front, as the Bethel couple has filed a notice of claim against the town, seeking nearly $1 million in damages.
Bethel wins in appeal
Wins and losses have been shared by both parties, but the latest victor is the Town of Bethel. Last week, a state appellate court unanimously ruled that the town has every right to collect $25,000 from Howard and YRP for violating the terms of a 2007 consent order.
That order, signed by both town officials and Howard, forbade any concerts or other recreational/amusement events on their Route 17B property (the former Max Yasgur farm) without first obtaining a special use permit.
Last year, the couple advertised for a gathering on their land to coincide with the Memorial Day weekend Phish concerts at the nearby Bethel Woods.
While the gathering ultimately did not happen on the anticipated scale, the town still considered the couple in violation of the consent order, and that fall, a judge agreed.
Per the order, a fine of $25,000 was imposed.
Howard and Abramson appealed that decision, but the court again sided with Bethel last week.
According to Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm, that means the $25,000 is due promptly, and a letter is being sent out to them stating such.
“To me, it’s a good day in Bethel,” Sturm said on Thursday, the day the decision was filed. “... We’ve never really prevailed in court till now.”
Howard, Abramson and YRP could appeal yet again, however, which could halt the payment a third time.
Neither the couple nor their attorney could be reached for comment.
In the meantime, they’ve applied for and received a single camping permit for this Memorial Day weekend, said Sturm. Phish is not returning to Bethel Woods this year, so it’s unknown what the couple plan to do with that permit, which allows 40-50 people to camp on their 100 acres.
“We’d still, even now, welcome a new commercial event on that property,” Sturm affirmed. “... It was never personal. ... They just need to follow the laws. ... I think they’d get a fair shake.”
Judging by their latest court filing, however, Howard and Abramson don’t seem as sure of that as Sturm.
Back to court?
Last month, the couple filed a notice of claim against the township, citing slander and malicious prosecution.
Three claims were made:
1. That Bethel Councilman Richard Crumley allegedly referred to Howard as a “retard” at an October town board meeting. Charging slander, Howard is seeking $100,000 in damages.
2. That Sturm referred to the couple as “con artists” in a Democrat article in March. Again charging slander, Howard and Abramson are seeking $100,000 in damages.
They are also requesting $500,000 in punitive damages against Sturm.
3. That Bethel Building Inspector BJ Gettel filed 10 misdemeanor charges of violating various town laws during last year’s Phish concert weekend, allegedly without probable cause and with malice.
Howard and Abramson were acquitted of those charges earlier this year in jury trial, but they allege that the town’s actions have damaged them by another $100,000.