QUEENSBURY -- It took 14 months and ended with a nasty court hearing that lasted nearly three hours, but Mike Willig got his motorcycle back Wednesday.
He can't legally register it or ride it on a road, and it had to be hauled away from the parking lot of Queensbury Town Court on a trailer.
But Willig still had a smile on his face and hugs for supporters as he posed for photos with the vintage Harley-Davidson chopper after the hearing in Queensbury Town Court.
The court proceeding focused on a request by Willig's lawyer, Kurt Mausert, that the state Department of Motor Vehicles be held in contempt of court for not returning the motorcycle as ordered by Queensbury Town Justice Michael Muller on May 20.
Mausert has also sought attorney's fees of $5,300, a $1,000 fine against DMV and jailing of an unspecified DMV employee or employees.
The state attorney general's office, which is representing the DMV, has contested the contempt of court request, and Muller did not rule on it Wednesday.
The return of the bike and the latest legal wrangling came 14 months after DMV investigators seized the 1981 Harley from in front of Willig's restaurant, Adirondack Seafood, on River Street in Queensbury, just west of the Hudson Falls village line.
The DMV representatives said the bike's vehicle identification number had been defaced, and Willig was charged with a felony. Willig contends the VIN wore down after years of exposure to the elements. Mausert pointed out that the DMV acknowledged it was able to make out the VIN with "99 percent certainty."
The Warren County District Attorney's Office declined to prosecute the charge, and it was dismissed in the interests of justice.
The motorcycle, though, continued to be held by DMV despite Muller's directive it be returned. The agency tried to circumvent the judge's order and went to state Supreme Court, but lost.
That brought Willig and Mausert face to face with a cadre of seven state employees and a Warren County assistant district attorney before Muller on Wednesday morning.
The state officials testified they were trying to return the motorcycle, but Willig would not buy a new VIN.
The agency was not willingly disobeying the judge's order to return the bike, said Assistant Attorney General Adam Silverman.
Willig testified during the hearing, testimony that got adversarial when Warren County Assistant District Attorney Marc Kokosa asked him if he told DMV investigators, in the presence of a Warren County sheriff's officer, that "my mechanic told me I might have a problem (with the VIN) but I didn't give a (expletive.)" Kokosa implied Willig knew the condition of the vehicle identification number was problematic.
Willig said he did not make the statement, which prompted Kokosa to ask Muller to read him a perjury warning. Willig reiterated that he did not make the statement.
"This is an agency that operates in the shadows," Mausert told Muller. "They just hold on to the motorcycle because they're DMV and they can."
Willig's plans for the bike remained unclear after the hearing.
The motorcycle cannot be registered without a valid vehicle identification number, and the DMV does not consider the number on it to be valid.
The state has agreed to waive the $25 fee typically imposed for a new VIN, and has also agreed to give Willig one that will allow the bike to keep its value and classic status instead of being considered a newer model, Silverman said.