Tensions rose on April 13 at the fourth public hearing to decide whether the owners of the Capri Lynbrook Motor Inn should have their room-rental license revoked.
The controversy began when Peter Ledwith, the Lynbrook village attorney, asked his expert hotel management witness Stanley Turkel to make assumptions about other witness’ testimony based on documents in evidence.
Turkel was not in attendance at the other three hearings, but Ledwith showed him the documents in hopes that Turkel would conclude that there is sufficient evidence to revoke the seven co-owners’ room-rental license. Attorneys representing the motel’s owners persistently objected, however, claiming that Ledwith was not telling Turkel everything about the hearings, and that Turkel was not supposed to make assumptions about the events that have occurred at the motel.
Jonathan Edelstein, one of the motel’s attorneys, said that because Ledwith did not tell Turkel about testimony made during cross-examination, Turkel was making assumptions about the case based on an “incomplete regurgitation” of the testimonies. Benedict Gullo, another attorney for the hotel’s owners, added that Ledwith was using these assumptions based on incomplete evidence to shift the burden of proof. Burden shifting occurs in a trial when an attorney provides a witness with evidence that seems to prove a particular point, forcing the other side to rebut the point with defensive or contradictory evidence. “My objection is that, in essence, what the village attorney is doing is burden shifting, which is a no-no, a big no-no in law,” Gullo said.
But Ledwith asserts that hypothetical questions based on incomplete evidence are a common practice in trial procedure. He recalled that when he worked as a medical malpractice attorney, he would call upon a doctor to assume the facts of a case based on evidence presented. The doctor would then base his or her conclusions about the appropriate case of action on the evidence that the attorney provided. “As long as whatever was said in the hypothetical question was said in evidence, that qualifies,” Ledwith said, adding that an attorney does not actually have to provide the expert witness with all of the evidence.
Before the hearings, Ledwith provided both motel attorneys with an expert witness response document, listing seven criteria that Turkel would testify on, including proper management practices and the roles of hotel security. Turkel has experience with these topics as a former manager of the Hotel Americana in Manhattan and as a consultant to the Asian American Hotel Owners Association. He has also testified as an expert witness on about 30 hotel-related cases over the past 19 years, and wrote about 264 articles and five books about hotel management, franchising and hotel history. “What he is going to testify on has to be something that the panel wouldn’t just know about from their life experience,” Ledwith said.
At the hearing, however, Ledwith asked Turkel to assume that arrests were made at the Capri motel and that the motel was using two different guest registration books. “Nowhere in here [the expert response document] does it say that he’s [Ledwith’s] going to ask Mr. Turkel … to assume hypotheticals about things that happened at this motel,” Edelstein said.
Ledwith said that he added these hypothetical questions as an eighth criteria to the form he provided the motel’s attorneys with so that Turkel could testify about whether these arrests and two registration books violated hotel standards of good practice. He also added that the objections to his hypothetical questions were the motel’s attorneys’ tactic to interrupt his flow of questioning.
“If we were in a court, the judge would tell you to stop talking and let the man finish his hypothetical questions,” he told Edelstein at the hearing. “You would never get away with this in court.” At that point, Alan Beach, the chairman of the committee that will decide the fate of the hotel owners, attempted to calm down the tension.
The next public hearing to decide the fate of the Capri Lynbrook Motor Inn is scheduled for May 25, when the motel’s managers are expected to testify.