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Who’s building? Michael Kitner stands in front of the Marshall Ray Building on River Street in Troy.

Photo: Chet Hardin

Hey, That’s Our Stuff

Two men claim the Troy Department of Public Works took their property wrongfully and won’t give it back

Michael Kitner went to court to argue that his property at 701 River St., the nearly-block-long Marshall Ray building, was improperly foreclosed on by the city of Troy. According to Kitner, the building was included in a foreclosure order of 61 buildings in Troy in 2007. On Tuesday, he said, there was a hearing before Rensselaer County Supreme Court Judge Christian Hummel, and the judge vacated the judgment to foreclose, returning the property to Kitner.

But now tenants of Kitner are claiming that, while the building was under litigation, some of their property was removed by the city Department of Public Works. The tenants, contractors Emmet Murphy and his brother, John Murphy, were renting storage space in the building.

It was John Murphy who discovered the employees removing his property from the building. “I was pulling over to get a donut there at Napoli, and I happened to notice at the building that there was a city truck there. I saw them loading a mannequin that I knew was mine. I went around and confronted the guy, and they had several of my brother’s and my things that we were storing there on the truck.”

According to Murphy, the employees said they were told to get things out of the building. When Murphy continued to say that the items belonged to him, the workers began taking things back into the building. Murphy asked the workers to let him in the building, at which point he noticed that several items were missing, including a $500 table saw.

“Those are my things that I need and my brother needs to do work,” John Murphy said. The workers then had Murphy follow them to the Department of Public Works garage, where he met with commissioner Bob Mirch.

“He said there wasn’t anything he could do for me, that I needed to get a hold of Michael Kitner,” said John. “But my understanding is that he was taking things out of there and storing them somewhere at the Department of Public Works.”

Mirch said that he was unaware of any ongoing litigation taking place at the building.

“If that was the case I didn’t know anything about it,” Mirch said. “The corporation counsel takes care of the legal stuff. I don’t get involved with that at all.”

According to the Murphys, the property was removed from the building on March 27, two days after an order to show cause, executed by Justice Hummel, was delivered to the city of Troy corporation counsel’s office by attorney Richard Weisz of Hodgson & Russ Attorneys.

“I was litigating the title of the building at the time the property was removed,” Kitner said. “The order to show cause is a restraining order, so that they can’t do anything with the property. It’s the legal equivalent of freezing the property.”

Kitner produced a letter from Weisz stating that the order was delivered. Interim corporation counsel Charles Sarris did not return requests to confirm the receipt of the order. Kitner also produced dated photographs showing Department of Public Works employees at the building on March 27, in seeming violation of the stay.

The city of Troy is being quiet about the current status of the taken property and about the recently overturned foreclosure.

“I have no comment on ongoing litigation,” said Jeff Buell, Troy public information director. Repeated attempts to contact Sarris were not returned.

The Murphys have had a similar experience trying to contact Sarris.

“They have some messages on their answering machine from me, and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten,” said Emmet Murphy. “Everybody is being avoided here.”

Mirch did comment on the foreclosure being vacated.

“I just think it’s amazing that somebody can not pay their taxes,” Mirch said, “and then delay in the dealing with of legal papers and then have a liberal judge overturn all the legal proceedings that had taken place before.”

Since March 27, Emmet Murphy has been dealing with the corporation counsel in an attempt to get back his property.

“I talked to the corporate counsel people,” Emmet Murphy said, “and they said to give them an itemized list and send a letter of the things that were stored there, and that’s sort of like trying to remember everything that was in your mother’s attic.”

Sarris initially contacted Emmet Murphy, but then communication dropped off and the Murphys have been unable to obtain their property.

“Charles Sarris, I talked with him once on the telephone,” Emmet Murphy said, “and I had sent him a letter about the scenario. They said that somebody would be getting back to me and getting it squared away, and it’s all been about a month now and nothing’s been happening.”

As of Wednesday, the issue had still not been resolved.

“We’re at the point now where we really don’t know what our next step is,” Emmet Murphy said. “We just want our stuff back.”

—Cecelia Martinez

What a Week


A different kind of tea party: rally organizer Jennifer Rogue.

Photo: Josh Potter

Friends in Weed

Cannabis legalization advocates rally in a rejuvenated anti- prohibition movement

“I do not look like someone who smokes pot,” Rich Murawski told a crowd gathered in Albany’s East Capital Park hours before the Dead show on Friday. A former drug and alcohol therapist, Murawski was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 14 years ago, and after using high doses of muscle relaxers like Soma, which proved ineffective, he made a life- changing decision. “I decided to try smoking marijuana, and it was transformative. I’m living proof that it does work, but I’m being treated like a criminal.”

Murawski’s was one of several testimonials delivered on the steps of the state Capitol during a cannabis rally organized by New York Citizens Against Marijuana Prohibition, a rally that well exceeded its 250-person permit. Medical use was far from the only case being made this day, and the gathering could be seen as representative of a recent national push toward legalization. The sentiment expressed on posters and banners was that the movement in New York is not one toward decriminalization, toward the marginal legalization for prescribed medical purposes (already achieved in 12 states), or even toward the legalization of industrial hemp (lacking the intoxicating chemical THC), but rather toward full legalization of a plant that advocates consider a panacea.

“[Cannabis] used to be a part of our country,” said NYCAMP spokeswoman Abigail Storm. Citing its use as a fiber in textiles and construction, fuel (ethanol), food (a whole protein that contains Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids), and touting its efficacy in fighting cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s, Storm echoed the opinion of most advocates: that the average person should be allowed to plant marijuana in their own backyard, and that marijuana could be essential to a new “green” economy.

The argument is not new, but advocates insist that this political climate is the most conducive one they’ve seen in years.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in the movement,” said Jennifer Rogue, an event organizer and founder of End Prohibition Now. “President Obama has given us a great opportunity right now because he’s left it to the states to regulate cannabis. If New York wants to tax, regulate, and legalize, we can.”

This optimism comes in stark contrast to the climate under the Bush administration, which maintained the status quo on marijuana’s Schedule I listing (which means, essentially, that the Drug Enforcement Administration considers it to have high potential for abuse and no acceptable medical application), and cracked down on state-approved medical marijuana farms in California. Last month, the debate returned to the national level when legistators in some Southern states talked openly of legalizing the cash crop as a way to generate revenue for their states. Obama has been vague on this issue; asked about marijuana legalization at a recent online town-hall meeting, he said only that he did not think it would be a good economic strategy. However, advocates believe he is far less likely than Bush to interfere with states’ legislation, and so organizations like NYCAMP are pressing harder on the state level.

Earlier in the day, cannabis advocates met with a representative of state Sen. Darrel Aubertine, who chairs the Agriculture Committee. Storm said his office has been “totally supportive.”

“We probably have a 75-percent better chance [of getting a legalization bill before the Legislature] this year than last year,” Storm said. “That’s how fast this movement is growing.”

The trick, it seems, will be in reversing a negative public perception of marijuana use and cultivation, inculcated through decades of the “war on drugs.”

“Right now they say it’s political suicide to support marijuana legalization,” said Rob Robinson, the event’s MC and former director of New York’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In light of the plant’s many uses and the revenue that it’s taxation would bring the state, he said, “We need to make it political suicide not to support legalization.”

—Josh Potter

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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