A former Southampton Town Animal Shelter volunteer embroiled in a long-running legal battle with the town won another small victory last month when a judge affirmed his earlier ruling that she cannot be held in contempt of court.
Judge E. Thomas Boyle denied a request by the town for a reconsideration of his January finding that the former volunteer, Pat Lynch of Southampton, was not in contempt of court when she penned to letters to the editor that were published in The Press. Those letters revealed some information that the town argued she could have gotten only from sealed discovery documents in her still ongoing civil rights lawsuit against the town. The private foundation that now funds the shelter’s operations has also filed a counter-suit against her, alleging she made defamatory statements about the shelter’s director, Donald Bambrick, and its main financial supporter, Susan Allen.
Ms. Lynch won a lawsuit she filed in 2004 after the shelter, then operated by the town, banned her from working there as a volunteer because she was involved in a series of disputes with shelter employees. She had previously filed a lawsuit seeking to force the shelter to stop euthanizing animals and had been very publicly critical of the town’s practice.
Ms. Lynch, who is a former columnist for The Press, was again barred from volunteering at the shelter in 2010, after the foundation created by Ms. Allen had taken over the day-to-day operations in the still town-owned building. She filed a second suit claiming that her ban was an infringement on her first amendment rights to free speech.
Attorneys for both Ms. Lynch and the town and shelter have filed motions for a summary judgment by Judge Boyle on the main question of the suit.
According to Ms. Lynch’s attorney, Steve Morelli, both sides see the case essentially boiling down to whether the shelter is now legally a private organization or still a town facility. If the judge deems it private, Mr. Morelli said, the shelter would be entitled to bar anyone it saw fit from volunteering there. But if it is public, it may not turn away Ms. Lynch without just cause.
“The defendants have basically admitted that Pat was precluded from being involved with the animal shelter based on her proclivity for litigation,” Mr. Morelli said. “That’s a violation of her First Amendment rights if this is a public facility. If so, they have the responsibility of adhering to the Constitution.”