Upstate New York Farm Must Allow Gay Weddings

Photo by Kelly Pfeister courtesy of the NYCLU
Jennifer, left, and Melisa McCarthy
An upstate New York farm has been fined by the state Division on Human Rights for refusing to host a wedding for a lesbian couple two years ago. Liberty Ridge Farm is located in Schaghticoke, New York, a 7,000-person town some 30 miles north of Albany. When Melisa Erwin and Jennie McCarthy decided to get married in 2012, as they told the press at the time, they thought Liberty Ridge would be the perfect place: they'd gotten engaged at an apple orchard, and getting hitched in Liberty Ridge's barn seemed like the perfect continuation to their rural theme. (According to court filings, the farm hosts blueberry-picking, pig races, and something called "pumpkin cannon shows.")

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Upstate Judge Indicted For Lying About Being Beaten With a Toilet Lid

Image courtesy of the Seneca County Sheriff's Department
Judge Barto's mugshot
Waterloo Village isn't the kind of place that makes the news much. It's a tiny place in Seneca County, population just a hair over 5,000, located about 270 miles north of New York City. It's so small and so quaint that one of its only judges, Justice Roger W. Barto, is also the sexton of the local cemetery. (A sexton oversees the graveyard's maintenance. Most towns got rid of theirs a couple hundred years ago.) And he's allegedly tripling up on roles this week, also becoming the town's mastermind criminal. A Seneca County grand jury indicted the judge on five felony and four misdemeanor charges for allegedly lying about being viciously beaten with a toilet lid last fall.

On a Saturday night in September of 2013, Barto was discovered in his courtroom, lying on the floor. He was taken to Rochester Memorial Hospital, where he told police he'd been locking up the courtroom when someone choked him from behind and hit him over the head with the heavy porcelain lid of a toilet tank.

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Orthodox Village Kiryas Joel Will Stop Sex-Segregating Public Park It Claimed Didn't Exist

Image via
An aerial view of the playground, with the red and blue areas clearly visible.
Late last year, the NYCLU, our local ACLU chapter, happened to catch a glimpse of a new playground at Kiryas Joel, the orthodox enclave in upstate New York. As photos published by Haredi news site Behadrey Haredim reveal, the park boasted blue playground equipment for boys, red for girls, and vast expanses of space in between. The town's municipal treasurer, Rabbi Gedalia Segdin, told the news outlet that the park would be watched over by the town Modesty Committee, to make sure no mixed-gender playing was going on. So did Yiddish signs distributed throughout the park making sure everyone kept to their specified color.

That, the NYCLU said, was decidedly not OK. Public parks cannot be segregated by sex. They were also concerned by Behadrey Haredim's report that non-Jews wouldn't be able to use the park: "Foreigners who do not belong to the Orthodox stream are not allowed to work out and the site is reserved for locals only."

Kiryas Joel initially responded by saying that the park didn't exist. That didn't prove to be a great strategy, and now the village has been forced to settle the suit, agreeing not to "endorse" sex-segregation in its public places.

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New York's Premier Bro State Senator Greg Ball Plagiarizes, Gets Busted, DGAF About It

Listen, nerds: Greg Ball doesn't care about your plagiarism allegations.
When we last checked in with upstate-dwelling State Senator Greg Ball, he was making virulently anti-immigrant statements to score some cheap political points. Now, just as cheaply, he's playing to the other side of the house, sponsoring a bill to ban killer whales from New York's water parks and aquariums, as the Albany Times-Union reports. Ball dubbed it the "Blackfish" bill, and the Times-Union points out it's "largely symbolic," given that there aren't any killer whales in New York at the moment and we're not exactly a bastion of marine mammal entertainment. Still, at least Ball isn't anti-immigrant and pro-whale torture, right? That'd be an unfortunate combination.

But the Times-Union noticed a more interesting piece of Ball's bill, namely the part that his office plagiarized outright from a 17-year-old kid. Donald Julius Rapier, a junior at Lindblow Math & Science Academy, wrote this op-ed for the Huffington Post in January. Ball's staff was apparently quite taken with one passage, which appears verbatim in the bill.

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State Senator Calls de Blasio's IDs for Undocumented Immigrants A "Terrorist Empowerment Act"

Image via.
State Senator Greg Ball, male, center, at a senior citizen's luncheon just after he issued the "terrorist" press release.
Earlier this week, new mayor Bill de Blasio's State of the City address set some pretty ambitious policy goals: he promised to set a new minimum wage in the city, presumably higher than New York state's, talked a lot about social inequality, and, most attention-gettingly, he promised to make municipal identification cards available to everyone , even undocumented immigrants.

"To all of my fellow New Yorkers who are undocumented, I say: New York City is your home, too," de Blasio said, announcing the plan, "and we will not force any of our residents to live their lives in the shadows."

It remains to be seen if or when de Blasio will actually implement the municipal ID plan, which would make it possible for undocumented people to do things like rent apartments and get library cards. We were surprised, though, to see that no political trolls immediately leapt out of the woodwork to criticize the plan, perhaps by making some hyperventilating, grandiose statement about terrorism and generous use of the word "illegals."

But now, after two long days, our wait is over. May we introduce State Senator Greg Ball?

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The ACLU Is Not Happy About Orthodox Enclave Kiryas Joel's Sex-Segregated Park

Image via Kiryas Joel Voice
Satmar boys play at a different village playground.
In 2012, with great fanfare, the village of Kiryas Joel opened a park on 283 unincorporated acres just outside its borders: slides, swings, benches, and, because Kiryas Joel's 22,000 residents are all members of the Satmar Hasidic movement, separate playing areas for boys and girls. Haredi news site Behadrey Haredim posted photos of the newly opened park, which showed that the areas for boys and men were blue, while the areas for girls and women were a pinkish-red. They're separated by both distance and sex-segregated walking trails, to make absolutely sure no mixed-gender swinging is going on.

Municipal treasurer Rabbi Gedalia Segdin told the website that the different locations were also "separated by hills, which actually form a modesty buffer and allow the place to remain completely pure." Segedin added, too, that the arrangement would be watched over by the village's Modesty Committee. The article added that, furthermore, the non-Orthodox would not be welcome: "Foreigners who do not belong to the Orthodox stream, are not allowed to work out and the site is reserved for locals only. "

The American Civil Liberties Union, according to court documents filed this week, is not amused.

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High Court Vacates Upstate Rape Conviction Because of Confusion Over What Defines "Lack of Consent"

Categories: Courts, Upstate

Wikimedia Commons
New York State Court of Appeals in Albany.
In 2008, Robert Worden pleaded guilty to third-degree rape in Monroe County Court. His girlfriend had accused him of forcing himself on her while she was passed out from taking medications. She stated that she woke up twice and demanded that he stop but he kept going. Worden claimed the sex was consensual, but acknowledged that his girlfriend had taken too much medication to voice consent. As part of his plea deal, he received a sentence of 10 years probation.

Less than three weeks after the plea, though, the woman recanted her accusation, filing a statement saying that she did not remember having sex with Worden on that night and if they did, it would have been consensual. She claimed that her friends and family "were pushing me to press charges" because they didn't like her boyfriend.

The case reached the state's highest court in October. And in late November, the Court of Appeals vacated Worden's ruling. Not because of the accuser changed her story, but because his conviction was invalid in the first place: Worden's guilty plea did not actually include an admission to any crime.

"The record of the defendant's plea allocation reveals that the prosecution, the defense counsel, and the trial court all misunderstood the definition of 'lack of consent' under" the penal code, the court wrote in a unanimous decision.

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The Super-Tall SUVs State Troopers Will Use to Bust You for Texting and Driving Are Just Regular-Sized Chevy Tahoes

With apologies to original image-takers Jot Powers and Frank Kovalchek
A masterful, wholly inaccurate artist's rendering of the new SUV fleet.
Yesterday, a report by the Associated Press was everywhere, concerning the super tall, unmarked SUVs that New York State Troopers have been given in order to bust texting drivers. They're grayish in color, there are 32 of them, and they're properly known as CITE vehicles, which stands for Concealed Identity Traffic Enforcement.

So, is this some nefarious plot to make sure your Thanksgiving trip upstate is as unpleasant as possible, forcing you to actually talk to your passengers? It isn't, believe it or not: the SUVs have been used to catch wanton texters since July, when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced they were part of a million-dollar effort to curb "distracted driving." Unmarked SUVs have been used by the state police since 2011. Unmarked cars have actually been used by state troopers since 1956. You just didn't notice them before, because you were too busy texting.

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As Pine Bush Continues Arguing Over Anti-Semitism Accusations, U.S. Attorney's Office Opens Investigation [UPDATED]

Pine Bush High School
A third government agency has begun investigating claims of anti-Semitism in upstate New York's Pine Bush Central School District. The New York Times reports that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York has opened a civil rights investigation to look into allegations that Pine Bush administrators did nothing to stop the harassment of Jewish students. Three Jewish families are suing the district, alleging that their children and others were allowed to be tormented for years without proper intervention from the district. After the Times ' original article on the harassment allegations appeared Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo quickly announced that the State Police and the State Division of Human Rights would investigate; Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the same day that his office was also investigating.

According to the Times, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara sent a letter to the Pine Bush school district's lawyer, saying it would investigate whether the school district, the Board of Education, or any of their employees "have discriminated against students on the basis of national origin and religion."

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"No One Threw Coins at the Fuckin' Jews:" Pine Bush Reacts to Being Called Anti-Semitic

Image via.
Pine Bush High School.
On Friday, the New York Times lobbed a bombshell upstate: a story about allegations of anti-Semitism in the Pine Bush Central School District, an hour and a half north of the city, spanning across several small towns. Three Jewish families are suing the district, alleging widespread and fairly nasty harassment against their kids and other Jewish children, harassment they say the district knew about and did virtually nothing to stop.

Several children gave testimony in the lawsuit last year, and the incidents they described and which the NYT recounted are disturbing: swastikas drawn everywhere, including on a seventh-grade girl's face as she was held down by two boys. Middle school students being called "Christ killer," "stupid Jew," "disgusting Jew," and being subjected to jokes about the Holocaust. Several students also alleged that they'd had coins thrown at them, a practically medieval form of insult. According to the suit, some students were given detention or sent to counseling, and some weren't disciplined at all. (In reporting the story, the NYT was given a fun bonus in the form of one John Barker, mechanic and proud civic booster, who said of Jewish families, "We don't want them in our town.")

The article had an immediate effect: Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a joint statement with New York Congressman Patrick Maloney, pledging "a full state and federal response" to the allegations. Governor Andrew Cuomo sent a letter/press release to State Education Commissioner Dr. John King, asking if his department had heard about these incidents, and informing him that the state police and the Division of Human Rights would be investigating.

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