RI - Will donors to beach-access fundraiser be deposed by fire district? Why ACLU is objecting.
WESTERLY – Shoreline access advocates who contributed to a GoFundMe page have been alerted that they are considered potential witnesses in an ongoing legal fight and may be deposed by attorneys for the Weekpaug Fire District, prompting a strong rebuke from the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The fundraiser, titled "Restore our Spring Avenue Right-of-Way," has raised more than $13,000 for the ongoing fight to open up public access to Quonochontaug Barrier Beach.
The Weekapaug Fire District, which doesn't fight fires and functions more like a homeowners association, controls the only pathways onto the 1.7-mile beach and uses security guards to keep out the public during the summer.
Local activists believe that the public should be able to access the beach using a right of way known as Spring Avenue Extension, which has been blocked for years. The Fire District disputes the notion that Spring Avenue is a public right of way, and the matter is pending before the Coastal Resources Management Council.
What the Fire District's lawyers said in letters to GoFundMe donors
Over the last week, some GoFundMe donors received letters from law firm Locke Lord, which represents the Weekapaug Fire District.
"The Spring Avenue Extension CRMC matter is in the discovery phase, and individuals with relevant information have and will be deposed in the near future," the Dec. 1 letter from lawyer Joseph Farside states. "It has come to our attention that you are a donor to the Restore our Spring Avenue Right-of-Way cause through Ms. Caroline Contrata's fundraiser established on gofundme.com.
"It should be evident that a person’s donation of money to a cause that they have a strong interest in supporting, including one involving legal proceedings, provides absolutely no basis to believe that the donor has any knowledge of evidentiary value about the case so as to warrant their deposition," Brown wrote.
"Based on your donation to Ms. Contrata's fundraiser, you have been identified as a potential witness in the Spring Avenue Extension CRMC matter," the letter goes on to state. "We would like to interview you in the near term and, potentially, depose you. If you have any information that you would like to disclose to us voluntarily, that would assist with accelerating the discovery process."
"Please be also advised that you may be called to testify, by subpoena or otherwise, in this matter at anytime," it concludes.