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Judge dismisses Buddhist lawsuit over blocking of road to Auriesville site

Thursday, October 17, 2013
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A sign on the way to the Jesuit Retreat House purchased by the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization. Photo taken in April 2013.
A sign on the way to the Jesuit Retreat House purchased by the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization. Photo taken in April 2013.

— A judge dismissed a lawsuit against the Auriesville Shrine that was filed after workers for the holy site erected a makeshift roadblock in the middle of Shrine Road.

Members of the Buddhist World Peace and Health Organization returned to Auriesville after a trip abroad in April and found tree logs and a sign scratched in paint stating “Closed.”

It was the second time the Chinese immigrants were blocked from getting to the former Jesuit retreat house they bought from the Jesuits for $500,000 back in 2006.

In 2010, they arrived at the site to find a bunch of string wrapped around trees, blocking the road, along with a roadwork sign, a broken jar of peppers and a tiny statue of a pizza maker. The late Jon Camaj of Colonie was charged that November with trespass and later admitted to disorderly conduct in connection with that incident.

Yik Cheng, a member of the Buddhist organization and a worker at the retreat house the group renovated and calls the Western Supreme Buddha Temple, sent a complaint with a form used in litigation in New York City, according to the ruling issued Sept. 23 by Montgomery County Court Judge Felix Catena.

Despite the irregularity, Catena accepted the filing as sufficient notice of the action. But Cheng sent shrine officials George H. Belgarde and Larry Steiger their copy of the complaint in the mail, and that’s not how it’s done. “Service of process must be made in strict compliance with statutory methods and service by mail on these defendants was unauthorized,” Catena wrote in the decision.

“There is no proof that service by mail to the defendants was made pursuant to [the law]. The complaint must be dismissed,” he wrote.

The complaint might have held some validity were Cheng to be arguing that she was injured by “the obstruction of a public highway” beyond what the community at large suffered by the roadblock, according to Catena’s decision.

But the Shrine’s attorney, Carmel Greco of Johnstown, provided an affidavit from Montgomery County Public Works Commissioner Paul Clayburn that put to rest the idea that Shrine Road in the town of Glen is a public highway.

Catena in the ruling said he gave the Buddhists the opportunity to refute the claim that Shrine Road isn’t a public highway, but the Buddhists didn’t submit a response.

Buddhist spokeswoman Jennie Wong on Thursday said she was unaware of details of the decision, and Cheng was not immediately available for comment.

Messages left for Belgarde were not returned Thursday.

According to Greco, the dispute between the two sides may be over at this point.

There was discussion during conferences this summer suggesting the Buddhists’ access to the temple, called Friendship Road, encroached on the Shrine’s property.

But Greco on Thursday said he believes the entrance to the road off of Ripley Road was moved off of Shrine property and there’s no court action pending or contemplated for Friendship Road.

 
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