Sweeney ‘stands ready’ to drop Switzkill Farm suit, but requests time to seek mystery document

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel

Switzkill Farm in autumn. Three Berne residents, including former state Supreme Court justice and convicted felon Thomas Spargo, are seeking to nullify the town’s purchase of the 100-acre property.

BERNE — John Sweeney, who’s representing three Berne residents in their quest to nullify Berne’s 2014 purchase of the 100-acre Switzkill Farm Property, is prepared to drop the suit in favor of a negotiated settlement, but not before he has a chance to seek a new document from the town that he thinks will be “outcome determinative,” according to court records.

In a request for an additional 30 days, Sweeney wrote to state Supreme Court Justice Christina L. Ryba that he was about to drop the proceeding before he was “informally advised” that the town had a document that would “weigh heavily on the correctness of that decision.”

It’s unclear what kind of document Sweeney is referring to because the request he submitted lays out 14 broad criteria that would essentially include all material that has any reference to Switzkill Farm. Sweeney told The Enterprise this week that he himself doesn’t know “specifically what is being referred to,” hence the wide dragnet. 

“We’re pending potential litigation so I’m being very cautious with my words and what I say here,” Sweeney said, “but we believe that within the confines of what we’ve asked for that there are materials that exist that are cogent that we had no prior knowledge of. As soon as we get it, we certainly would share that with you and the public.” 

Sweeney said that “involved parties” told him there was documentation that would affect his decision to drop the case, which he said he was willing to do because he was “concerned in going forward” with the litigation.

“I think there’s an opportunity for a negotiated settlement,” Sweeney said, “so I don’t want to impede that opportunity … but then this new information kind of came to us, so we’re waiting to see what that says.”

Berne Supervisor Sean Lyons and the town’s attorney, Javid Afzali, did not respond to Enterprise inquiries about the mystery document. Jon Crain, the attorney representing Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy — a not-for-profit organization that facilitated the town’s purchase — declined to comment on the record.

Lyons, a Republican who oversees a GOP-backed town board, has been accused by Democrats of allowing Switzkill Farm to fall into disrepair, rather than taking the steps that some residents, including former Supervisor Kevin Crosier and former Councilwoman Karen Schimmer, both Democrats who voted in favor of the purchase in 2o14, feel are necessary to turn the property into a moneymaker.

Afzali had announced at a town board meeting last July, just months before former state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Spargo and two other residents with Republican affiliations, that the 2014 purchase was likely invalid because residents were not notified of their supposed right to a permissive referendum. Crosier, who is not directly involved in the current suit, and the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy have argued that the purchase was not subject to a permissive referendum because it was made with cash on hand, rather than with a loan.

The return date for the case is April 5. 

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