Following the case of a local brother and sister who were after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation took 90 pounds of their fish last July and , South Fork Assemblyman Fred Thiele is proposing legislation to put a check on DEC searches.
"Under the current process, the DEC is the police, the prosecutor, the judge, and jury, all before the case ever gets to court." Thiele said. "There is no check on the authority of the DEC. Citizens are entitled to some due process of law under the Constitution."
A DEC spokeswoman said via email on Friday, "We do not comment on proposed legislation."
Kelly Lester was initially charged with a misdemeanor for the alleged sale of shellfish to the public without a permit, but the charge was later dropped to a violation at arraignment. Paul, her brother, was charged with possession of untagged fluke and possession of over the limit fluke, which are violations, not considered a criminal offense under the statute.
According to their attorney, Daniel G. Rodgers, Thiele's proposed legislation is a "sea change."
"It's enormous," said Rodgers, who added that he was surprised to hear about the proposal last week. "This is putting an agency on notice, saying that they can't violate the constitution."
In early March, the . Rodgers says he has a receipt from Stuart's Fish Market with a check made out to the DEC for the fish obtained as a result of the search. The agency has yet to respond to their request, Rodgers said, and he has tentatively scheduled a press conference for next Monday calling for further investigation into the DEC's search practices, in addition to following the money trail he says must be made as a result of selling seized fish.
Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fisherman's Association, said she hasn't yet had a chance to take a good look at Thiele's legislation. She'll be meeting with the assemblyman next week to go over his plan, among other issues, she said.
"We're looking at it now and we're happy Assemblyman Thiele is willing to help," she said. "We're looking to make sure this is something that receives widespread support."
Paul's brother Danny Lester said on Friday that while the legislation would be a good first step, much progress remains to be made.
"You gotta start someplace, so this legislation is going to be good. But these guys think they're cowboys and can do whatever they want," he said. "Maybe now they'll stop and think about what they're doing to people's lives."
In the end, the legislation still has to make it through the State Legislature and get Gov. Andrew Cuomo's signature. State Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, is sponsoring the bill in the State Senate, according to Thiele's office.
"They're never going to stop until some of these politicians actually stop playing politics and look at what's going on," Lester said.