Salon owner requests legal aid in criminal case resulting from operating a nonessential business during shutdown

Court proceedings on Riverhead’s first case involving a violation of the public health law for operating a nonessential business during the COVID-19 pandemic were adjourned to next month after a Jamesport salon owner appeared in court twice this week without an attorney.

Denise Dellaquila, owner of Dellaquila Beauty, requested legal aid Wednesday after Town Justice Lori Hulse advised her for the second time this week that it’s in her best interest to hire representation.

Ms. Dellaquila, of Mattituck, said she was uncomfortable disclosing her finances in the courtroom, so she was granted an adjournment until Aug. 5 to give her time to find out if she was eligible for legal aid. Assistant district attorney Kyle Glasser said that due to her extended loss of income, the court might be able to find her qualified. 

“I don’t know, but I don’t think that it would be the worst thing in the world if legal aid was assigned at this time based on that fact,” the prosecutor said.

Attorney Steven DeVito of the Legal Aid Society later joined the proceeding via Skype and agreed to handle Ms. Dellaquila’s rearraignment, during which they entered a not guilty plea, but said she would have to follow the usual process of applying for aid before further representation could be provided.

Legal aid is typically reserved for people determined by the court to be poor or needy, though certain agencies also offer services for victims of domestic violence, disabled veterans and others with special circumstances. Funding for the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County is provided mostly through the county government, but also comes through other sources, including New York State.

Ms. Dellaquila was the first person charged in Riverhead Town — and possibly all of Suffolk County — with violating the public health law following Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order prohibiting nonessential businesses from operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At her initial arraignment Monday, she told Judge Hulse she wanted to resolve the matter in the “quickest way possible.”

“I can’t emotionally deal with this,” an emotional Ms. Dellaquila said. “I’m sorry.”

She initially said Monday that she did not wish to hire counsel to represent her, but when the judge advised her for a second time Wednesday that hiring an attorney is in her best interest, considering it is a criminal case, she said she believed one could be provided for her. 

Ms. Dellaquila was also advised by the judge Monday to discuss with prosecutors a possible plea deal.

Violating the public health law is a misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $2,000 for a first violation and $5,000 for second violation, Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said shortly after Ms. Dellaquila was charged.

Dellaquila Beauty reopened for the first time in nearly two months Friday, May 15, the same day other parts of the state were set to reopen for Phase 1 of the governor’s plan to end the shutdown. That phase was limited to certain upstate counties at the time and included construction, manufacturing and some retail businsses. The salon owners were fined when they continued to operate for several days despite warnings to close from police. At the time, the county was still experiencing more than 100 new cases each day and 18 people died in Suffolk on the day Ms. Dellaquila received an appearance ticket. There was also a large public outcry for businesses to reopen at the time.

Suffolk County reached Phase 1 a week later, but salons were not permitted to reopen for another 40 days after Dellaquila first returned. The salon owners decided to close again after the ticket was issued and are now back operating. At the time, the Dellaquilas said they did not believe Mr. Cuomo’s executive order was an enforceable law.

Judge Hulse told Ms. Dellaquila on Monday that she has the right to go to trial should she choose to do so.