By Patrick Healy
New York Times
Some things in life are truly worth fighting for. For a Long
Island car salesman named Herman Goldsmith, it was the eighth
letter of the alphabet.
Goldsmith has for nearly 20 years held onto a single-letter
vanity license plate, making him one of a tiny number of New
Yorkers to have that right. He acquired "H" - for
Herman - in 1986.
Most recently, it was affixed to a 1936 Cadillac he drives
only on weekends.
But in May 2002, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles
informed Goldsmith that his "H" was history and
"should be returned to the public domain," according
to court papers.
Frailer men might have accepted the decision, but Mr. Goldsmith
had the means and the will. So he went to court.
"They took on the wrong guy," said Goldsmith's
lawyer, Arnold Schickler.
Goldsmith, who owns a luxury-car dealership in Hewlett, on
the South Shore, said his lawsuit was about principles, not
plates. He paid about $35 per year for the plate and said
only he should be able to decide when to give it up.
But there was more. Goldsmith said he talked to employees
at the Motor Vehicles Department and came to suspect his "H"
plate was destined not for "the public domain" but
for the bumper of a wealthy, well-connected politician.
A department spokesman said he was not familiar with the
case and would not comment on it.
After nearly two years, a decision vindicating Goldsmith
was handed down on Monday. The department's attempt to take
back the plate "was a violation of lawful procedure and
an error of law," Judge Peter B. Skelos of State Supreme
Court in Nassau County wrote.
Goldsmith got the rights to his "H," and all it
cost him was a few years and 200 billable legal hours. Neither
he nor his lawyer would discuss the exact fees "I
don't even want to know," Mr. Goldsmith said but
two Manhattan lawyers said the going rate for a good New York
lawyer averaged $300 to $400 an hour.
Still, Goldsmith cannot take his "H" out for a
spin. The plate, long expired, is sitting in a drawer and
must now be renewed. Mr. Goldsmith said he was waiting to
hear from the department.