Hare Krishnas’ appeal denied in state’s highest court

By HOWARD R. BALABAN , The Times Herald    12/15/2002

ALBANY — The case of the People of New York v. Stephen Voith has been stopped at the highest court level in New York State.
However, it is still making waves locally and will be back in court - this time in Rushford Town Court - on Tuesday.
Mr. Voith and his wife, Linda, are Hare Krishnas who live in Angelica and have been battling to keep farm animals on their property for more than a year. They lost their case in Angelica Village Court and in Allegany County Court.
An official in the New York State Court of Appeals confirmed Thursday that the case was denied acceptance on Dec. 4.
“A criminal leave application was submitted,” he said, which meant the Voiths and their attorney had applied for the appeal.
“The application got denied, and no explanation was given by the court, as is its practice,” said the state official.
According to the official, the Court of Appeals is normally the final step in any state court proceeding. However, in any federal issue a defendant could try for a Supreme Court trial, he said.
Ray Bulson, the prosecuting attorney in the case, could not be reached for comment.
The Voiths’ defense attorney, Ross Scott, said the case is still moving forward even though its been stopped at the Court of Appeals.
“They (Court of Appeals) are very careful in what they think deserves their consideration,” said Mr. Scott. “There was no ruling made by them; They just simply did not take the appeal.”
Mr. Scott said he has had some talks with a New York City based lawyer for the New York Civil Liberties Union in an effort to get the Court of Appeals to reconsider.
In the meantime, the Voiths will be in court on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Town of Rushford to answer to a different charge.
Mr. Scott said the charge is similar to what was previously alleged because the Voiths have continued to keep farm animals. Since it is a separate charge, he added that there could conceivably be more appeals at high court levels.
However, Mr. Scott said the possibility exists that there may not be a need for an appeal.
“We’re arguing for a motion to dismiss this case,” he said referring to Tuesday’s court date. “There’s a question of whether they’ve been selectively prosecuted.”
He further explained, “When one looks at the charging documents, which are called informations, carefully, (the Voiths) really don’t get charged with violating any ordinance. Our position and reason that the allegations aren’t there is that they can’t be made in good faith. I’m asking the court to dismiss the informations because the Voiths have not been charged with having less than 10 acres. Unless they are charged with that, than they have not violated any ordinance.”
In order to be convicted of harboring farm animals, Mr. Scott said his defendants must have less than 10 acres. He said, though, that the Voiths’ property comprised more than 10 acres because they had a lease with their neighbor. Mr. Scott added that if a family owns 10 or more acres it can have as many farm animals as it wants.
The Voiths were originally convicted of harboring farm animals and violating a noise ordinance because, according to Mr. Scott, “One cow ‘mooed’ one night. But they live across the street from a cattle farm in Angelica.”
An appeal in November of 2001 was heard in Allegany County Court by Judge James Euken, who denied it, leading up to the most recent appeal denial at the state level.

©The Times Herald, Olean, N.Y. 2002