Kinsella Pleads Not Guilty in Social Host Case

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By Stephen J. Kotz

Former Sag Harbor School Board president Susan G. Kinsella on Friday pleaded not guilty to a charge of violating the Suffolk County social host law for allegedly allowing underaged drinking at a party at her North Haven home in January.

Ms. Kinsella’s attorney, Daniel Rodgers of Southampton, said his client was innocent and would seek a bench trial before Southampton Town Justice Deborah Kooperstein to make her case.

“We told the DA we weren’t interested in any conferences or plea bargains. Let’s go straight to trial,” he said. “If you were an innocent person and your name had been besmirched, you would want to clear it as soon as possible.”

Justice Kooperstein set a June 29 date for the trial, and Ms. Kinsella’s next court appearance will be on April 4. Mr. Rodgers said he hoped the trial could be moved up and would request an earlier date from the judge at next month’s conference.

Ms. Kinsella, 54, was arrested on the misdemeanor charge of allowing alcohol consumption by persons under the age of 21 on February 17 three weeks after Southampton Town Police were called to her home on Barclay Drive on the evening of January 27, after Pierson High School had held its annual Spirit Night. Police said they had received a tip of underaged drinking through the New York state Police’s 866-UNDER21 hotline.

Police said an officer could see young people consuming alcohol through a window in the home, but when they tried to question Ms. Kinsella she denied there was a party, locked the doors and refused to cooperate. Police said they remained at the scene and collected statements from a number of people leaving the party and conducted a follow-up investigation before arresting Ms. Kinsella at her home three weeks later.

Immediately following her arrest, Mr. Rodgers said Ms. Guinchard-Kinsella was unaware that there was any drinking going on and had been taken by surprise by the appearance of police at her door. He repeated that assertion on Monday.

On the night of the party, he said she had given her daughter approval to have several friends over, but unbeknownst to her, more kids showed up and allegedly brought beer and alcohol with them. “‘A few friends over’ turned into 20, 25 kids,” he said, adding that Ms. Kinsella was “on the second floor of her home … in her room, watching a movie,” unaware of what was transpiring downstairs.

“When police showed up, they were very aggressive with her and wanted to come in,” he said. “As soon as she realized alcohol was being served, her mother’s instinct kicked.”

He said she went down to the basement, announced the party was over, and questioned each and every person as they left the home to make certain they were not drunk.

Police, who waited outside, collected statements from at least four kids leaving the party, but Mr. Rodgers said none of those statements alleged that Ms. Kinsella was aware of what was going on.

“Having kids in your house is not illegal,” he said. “They have to show she with knowledge created an environment where underaged drinking was allowed.”

The attorney said the law requires a responsible adult to put a stop to alcohol use as soon as it is discovered, which he insisted Ms. Kinsella did. “This whole case is going to boil down to corrective action,” he said. “She was in no rush to throw these kids out on the street. What is corrective action? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Fifteen minutes?

If found guilty, Ms. Guinchard-Kinsella could be fined up to $500.

Mr. Rodgers said his client was looking forward to her trial. “Susan Kinsella is going to take the stand in her defense,” he said. “She wants to clear her name.”

 

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