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Agreement reached in bars lawsuit over archived emails

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RACINE — Attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants in the city tavern lawsuit have reached a deal concerning archived city emails and other electronically stored data.

In the agreement — the details of which are still being fine tuned — the plaintiffs and the defendants will share the cost of retrieving the hard-to-access information, the city’s attorney Michael Cohen said this week.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs — former minority bar owners who allege the city discriminated against them — filed a motion in February seeking access to archived emails from January 2006 to May 2009.

Alleging they had already found troubling instances of racist and conspiratorial language in emails from 2009 to the present, the plaintiffs said the city should shoulder the cost of providing the archived information.

Attorneys for the city countered that the plaintiffs had found no evidence of city employees or defendants using racist or conspiratorial terms in the more recent emails. They argued that the plaintiffs should cover at least 75 percent of the cost to search the backup tapes, which they estimated could run from $19,000 to more than $40,000.

Addressing the parties in federal court on Feb. 26 in Milwaukee, U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller suggested the parties set some kind of timeline for the review of the more recent emails so an agreement could be reached on how much of the archived data to provide.

The plaintiffs — the owners of five now-shuttered Racine bars — first sued the city last February, accusing Mayor John Dickert and close to a dozen other defendants of engaging in an elaborate plot to drive minority bar owners out of the city, violating the bar owners’ constitutional and civil rights, and running afoul of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as RICO.

Now that the city has already spent $100,000 in attorneys fees on the case, an insurance company is picking up the rest.

Trial pushed back

To give both sides in the case more time to sift through the thousands of documents under review in the case, Stadtmueller ruled in March to grant a trial extension.

While the plaintiffs asked for five months, the judge approved a two month extension, pushing the original trial date of Sept. 21 to Nov. 16.

“In light of the complexity of the case, the Court finds it appropriate to grant an extension of time, so that the attorneys can ensure that they are well prepared to present the case to the jury,” writes Stadtmueller in the order. “The Court will not suffer lack of preparation when this case comes to trial.”

In a separate order, Stadtmueller also denied a request from the city’s attorneys seeking access to emails between the plaintiff’s attorneys and former Downtown developer Jim Spodick.

The city said that Spodick, who made a documentary alleging the city discriminated against minority bar owners, was a material witness and the plaintiffs were improperly trying to withhold his correspondence.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that any emails between them and Spodick — who once rented property to two of the plaintiffs in the case and served as an investigator on the case — were improper to share. Stadtmueller agreed.


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