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Well, recuuuuuuse me! Judge takes himself off stoop-drinking case

The Brooklyn Paper
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The long-awaited trial of a man accused of drinking beer on his own stoop will have to wait a few more days, thanks to the stunning recusal of a judge who took himself off the case on Monday because — his words, not ours — my coverage of the trial of the century has been “too good.”

“I read about the case in your paper,” Judge Jerome Kay said, minutes after he stunned a packed Downtown Brooklyn courtroom and made the extremely rare decision to take himself off the summons case against Prospect Heights resident Kimber VanRy, the man who was hit with a violation over the summer for drinking a Sierra Nevada beer on his Sterling Place stoop.

Judge Kay, who lives in Park Slope, said he not only followed the coverage in The Brooklyn Angle, but later walked past VanRy’s building.

“I know that building, I know that stoop, so remaining on the case would give the appearance that I could not be fair, pro or con,” the judge said.

And make no mistake — Kay has a strong opinion on the case that has all of Brooklyn stoop-lovers riveted.

“I do have an opinion — but I’m not going to share it with you!” the judge said.

It’s no wonder Kay has taken sides in this climactic battle to save the sanctity of Brooklyn’s iconic front stoop. The central issues in the case are not in dispute: On Aug. 27, after Sen. Joe Biden accepted the vice-presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, VanRy went out onto his stoop with a beer and a Blackberry.

Silently sending out e-mails and relishing a good night for the Democrats, he sipped the Sierra Nevada on his front step a few feet from the sidewalk.

A squad car rolled up and the driver motioned VanRy over (his partner never looked up from the newspaper). Before he really knew what was happening, he’d been hit with the open container summons. The officer cited city law which says that any activity that can be seen from the street, even if it is on private property, is de facto public.

VanRy, a sales manager for a stock video footage company, could’ve paid the $25 summons, but he vowed to fight, citing a version of a man’s home being his castle.

No matter which side you’re on, the case has created quite a stir. The law-and-order purists say that the cop was right to issue the summons because VanRy’s drinking was, indeed, in public. On the other side is everyone else — a population that believes that a person’s stoop should be inviolate and that the NYPD should not be trying to public-ize our private space.

And another point: if drinking beer on one’s private stoop is actually an act of public lawlessness, what about if someone like me (but an even worse singer) pulled out a guitar and sang an off-key version of “Lay, Lady, Lay”? Wouldn’t that be far more annoying to neighbors, and, therefore, more worthy of a summons than Kimber VanRy’s silent stoop beer?

For these reasons, VanRy fights on. Despite four court appearances and four delays, he says he’ll be on hand next Tuesday when the case is finally heard.

“It’s frustrating, but it’s an important issue, so I will be back,” he said.

Remember, folks, he is fighting for us all.

UPDATED AT 11 PM ON FEB. 9: Story was updated to include more detail about city law.

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com
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Reader Feedback

Ken Hicks from was Sheepshead Bay says:
What if you're drinking in your backyard, but part of the yard is visible to the street? Is that reason to ticket someone if they're drinking beer or wine in that visible section? doesn't this really belong in the "Don't police and courts have more pressing matters to attend to?"
Feb. 9, 2009, 2:28 pm
A O from BKLYN says:
I've heard of ppl smoking pot on their stoop and cops not being able to do anything because they are on their own private property. Now pot is illegal any way you slice it so how can they get away consuming an illegal product but get ticketed for consuming a legal product. Is this world crazy or am i just misinformed?
Feb. 9, 2009, 2:35 pm
Laloriss from Bed-Stuy says:
A O: In response to your question: "This world is continually crazy and getting crazier by the minute." Might be due to 'Global Warming.'
Feb. 9, 2009, 4:23 pm
Lori Ann from Corfu, NY says:
I think that this is a farce. There are always rules and regulations to follow however I think that this oversteps Kimbers' civil rights. Who pays taxes, insures and maintains those steps? The city doesn't. If he was creating a scene then perhaps that would be a different case. He has been nothing but professional as far as I have seen. If the court system sides on the citys' side they are dead wrong. Kimber pays for the priviledge of owning a piece the of American dream. Would the city then be able to say that you can't drink in your yard or your house if visible to others? Drop the case as meaningless and get to the real issues. If the city then wants to clarify the law a little bit better then they can. This is an insane waste of tax payer money.
Feb. 9, 2009, 9:19 pm
mikenyc2009 from kensington says:
"call them the law-and-order purists, say that any drinking that is in view of the public, even drinking on ones own stoop, is a violation of the citys open-container law"

this is about taxes and revenue, racism and class equality. a 'home owner' stoop would be different than a 'renters' stoop, thus discriminating...

and of course youll get a ticket for walking down the street with a beer in a paper bag, maybe while being watched by the swells sitting at some sidewalk cafe drinking a carafe of overpriced watered down wine 'in view of the public'

dont forget gloomberg loves it when the swells drink wine at a central park classical music concert and doesnt ask for riot geared swat teams to confiscate your merlot? things taht make you go hmmm?
Feb. 9, 2009, 11:21 pm
pro door framer from unioncity,nj says:
Unbelievable. This man is a hero and should treated as such...Sully? Pfft. Give Mr Vanry the key to the city!
Feb. 10, 2009, 10:19 am
pro door framer from unioncity,nj says:
a church key would be even better!!!
Feb. 10, 2009, 10:19 am
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
Maybe this case will cause us to wonder why we have a law against consuming alcohol in public. There are already laws against publice drunkedness and disorderly conduct, so it's not used to halt drunken or disorderly behavior. I think that responsibly enjoying a beer (or any other alcoholic beverage) should be allowed in public simply because i can't see any reason why it shouldn't be.
Feb. 12, 2009, 9:25 am
Henry of the Brown Paper Bag from Brownsville says:
So what if he had it in a cup? Or in a mason jar? The cops gonna come up and taste it? And how about drinking in your window, or on the fire escape? That could be in the public view.

I don't get it.
Feb. 13, 2009, 9:08 pm
Jerry from BkNY says:
Henry of the Brown Paper Bag from Brownsville says: "how about drinking in your window, or on the fire escape? That could be in the public view."

Contrary to the story, it's not about VIEW. The law bars drinking in areas ACCESSIBLE to the public, unless those sites are licensed to serve alcohol (and thus presumably would have some crowd control in place).

However stupid it seems in practice: It's clearly meant to prevent "private parties" - on/near public space - from turning into public free-for-alls.
Feb. 14, 2009, 12:29 am
neil from Bed-Stuy says:
I am so glad someone has take on this annoying interference to people's civil liberties
Feb. 15, 2009, 2:21 pm

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