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Former Southampton Village Trustee Sues Over Fire Department Dismissal

May 06, 2011

A former Southampton Village trustee has filed a lawsuit challenging his dismissal from the Southampton Fire Department, claiming he was improperly kicked off the squad.

Harald Steudte, in an Article 78 lawsuit filed against the village, the fire department and top fire officials in State Supreme Court on April 29 and served at Village Hall on Wednesday, said his constitutional and civil rights to due process and equal protection were violated when the department booted him from its ranks on December 29 because it did not call a meeting or take a vote to take such action and failed to give him an appeal hearing. Mr. Steudte also claims in the suit that the department officials never drafted formal charges against him, but instead called for an evidentiary hearing before the department’s disciplinary board.

Mr. Steudte’s attorney, Stanley E. Orzechowski of Nesconset, requested that hearing, originally set for March 16, to be adjourned, but the suit charges that the department failed to reschedule it and failed to draft formal charges against Mr. Steudte.

The suit calls for the department to reinstate Mr. Steudte as a member in good standing and take no further action against him.

The disciplinary board, then Southampton Fire Department Chief Roy “Buddy” Wines IV, then 1st Assistant Chief Rodney “Chip” Pierson, then 2nd Assistant Chief Dennis Roy and Captain David Raynor are the other defendants named in the suit.

A December 29 letter signed by then Chief Wines and addressed to Mr. Steudte states that Mr. Steudte was being dismissed immediately because he did not attend required department annual training or successfully complete a required annual physical. According to the letter, Mr. Steudte’s last physical was in 2007.

Mr. Steudte’s suit does not object to his dismissal, but calls the way it was done “arbitrary, capricious, irrational, unlawful and discriminatory.”

At bout the same time Mr. Steudte was kicked out, his son, Benjamin, 28, received a similar dismissal letter, the suit states, adding that he, too, requested a hearing, but did not get one.

Brian C. Doyle of the law firm of Farrell Fritz in Bridgehampton, who is representing the fire department in the suit, did not immediately return a call Friday.

Mr. Steudte referred all questions to his attorney. Mr. Orzechowski did not return a call on Thursday.

When reached for comment on Friday, Chief Pierson, who was promoted to chief on January 1, said he was unaware of the suit. Former Chief Wines did not immediately return a call.

Mr. Steudte said he had been a member of the fire department for 33 or 34 years and that his son had been a member for about a decade.

Mr. Steudte served as a village trustee from 1991 to 1999 and again between 2003 and 2005. He has also served as a fire commissioner. His term on that board expired at the end of 2010 and he opted not to seek reelection.

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