Robert R. McMillan – Defending Billy Joel and The Bay Men

Back in the summer of 1992, an interesting event took place at an East End beach on Long Island, New York. Billy Joel and his wife, Christie Brinkley, the actress and model, gathered on an Amagansett Beach while several bay men demonstrated the outlawed haul seining for striped bass.

Haul seining is a form of fishing with a net taken out into the water and then hauled back to the beach with a catch of fish. Haul seining had been outlawed by the State of New York to prevent the taking of too many striped bass from the waters surrounding Long Island.

As the net was pulled in, Billy Joel and his wife went to the water’s edge and carried striped bass out of the water. They and the bay men were then charged with violating New York law. Next, there would have to be a trial.

How did I get involved in this case? It started when I received a call from Tony Bullock, the East Hampton Town Supervisor. Tony said to me that Billy Joel and the East End bay men needed legal help in a court trial. “Could I please help?” I agreed to take on the case.

Next, I went out East to meet with Billy Joel and the bay men to get all the facts and prepare the defense. One of my partners, an expert in environmental issues, and I went to Amagansett for the meeting. We spent around two hours going over the facts and examining the tickets issued for the haul seining and taking of striped bass.

On returning to the office, our employees asked as the first question, “Did we get to meet Christie Brinkley?” Billy Joel was second on the list. Unfortunately, we had to answer that Christie Brinkley was not at the meeting.

The next step was the trial before a judge of the East Hampton Justice Court. Based on the review of the tickets, our best defense was an error, which was made in the filling out of the tickets. As I summed up our defense, my closing words were, “The bay men of the East End of Long Island are as endangered a species as the spotted owl in Oregon.” Interestingly, the television coverage of the trial ended with that quote from my summation.

The judge decided in favor of Billy Joel and the bay men, based on the technical defect we had found in the tickets. The case was over, but the bay men were still not permitted to continue haul seining in Long Island waters.

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