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City: Dismiss bar lawsuit
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City: Dismiss bar lawsuit

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Racine City Hall

Racine City Hall, 730 Washington Ave., photographed February 25, 2014.

RACINE — An attorney representing the city of Racine and 14 former and current city officials has asked a judge to toss out a civil rights lawsuit brought against them by the owners of six shuttered taverns.

That lawsuit alleges that the city, Mayor John Dickert and 18 other defendants conspired to drive minority-owned bars out of the city.

The lawsuit accuses Dickert and others, including members of the Racine City Tavern League, from engaging in an elaborate plot to bankroll Dickert’s campaign that resulted in minority-owned bars being targeted, and their licenses freed up for white bar owners.

In addition to violating the federal Civil Rights Act, the plaintiffs claim the defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly called RICO, though their alleged actions.

On Friday, Michael J. Cohen of Meissner, Tierney, Fisher & Nichols S.C. — the attorney representing all but six of the defendants named in the lawsuit — filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that even if the allegations put forth by former bar owners are true there are no facts in the lawsuit to support the claims and nothing to make the case that the defendants violated either the Civil Rights or the RICO acts.

“In their complaint, plaintiffs ... concoct an incredible tale of a far-reaching conspiracy and political intrigue, through which ... the city of Racine and certain of its employees, agencies, and officials, and local companies and their officers, all conspired to prevent them, and other minorities from obtaining and/or maintaining their liquor license.

“After separating the wheat from the chaff in (the) plaintiffs’ 184-paragraph, 50-page complaint, however, it becomes abundantly clear the allegations are fatally lacking in numerous aspects,” the motion states.

RICO claims

The attorneys devote most of their 50-page motion to dismiss poking holes in the plaintiffs’ claims that Dickert, members of the Racine City Tavern League and others violated the RICO Act.

To be guilty of a RICO violation a person must be found to be involved in the operation and management of a group of people or organizations — an “enterprise” — and to have been part of the illegal enterprise’s commission of multiple criminal acts.

Dickert is guilty of RICO violations, the lawsuit alleges, because, among other things, he allegedly accepted illegal campaign donations or “bribes” designed to protect tavern League members and give them special access to “liquor licenses extorted from minority bar owners.”

Police, current and former members of the Public Safety and Licensing Committee, and other local officials violated RICO, the complaint alleges, because as part of the enterprise they “knowingly agreed or conspired to subject minority-owned bars” or those frequented by minorities to “increased scrutiny,” the lawsuit alleges.

The attorneys for the city argue, however, that the plaintiffs fail to sufficiently show that the illegal acts alleged in the complaint — liquor license and campaign act violations — qualify as RICO violations.

“With respect to the campaign contributions, the complaint specifically fails to identify a single person whose contribution exceeded any cash or contribution limit imposed by law,” the motion states. “Moreover, the complaint contains no detail as to when such campaign contributions were made ..., whom (they were given to), and in what amounts.”

The defense also argues that the complaint fails to illustrate a “pattern of racketeering, to “adequately allege a conspiracy,” or to show how the Public Safety and Licensing Committee could have been connected to any of the alleged “acts of bribery, extortion and/or money laundering” alluded to in the lawsuit.

The defense adds that the RICO claims against the municipal defendants should be dismissed because “courts have consistently concluded that municipalities and their employees sued in their official capacities cannot be held liable under RICO.”

Civil Rights claims

In addition to violating the RICO Act, the former bar owners claim the city and other defendants repeatedly violated Section 1983 of the U.S. Civil Rights code, by, among other things, conspiring to “target, unjustly scrutinize, discriminate, and unfairly burden” the plaintiffs’ bars and the bars of other minorities.

In its motion the defense states that those allegations against the municipal defendants should be dismissed, because the plaintiffs failed to show that the municipal defendants, which already have “quasi-judicial immunity” were personally involved in depriving them of their civil rights.

The defense also notes that the plaintiffs cannot bring a lawsuit against the municipal official if the municipal official was acting in his or her official capacity when the alleged violations occurred, and that they only have standing “to assert claims based upon violations of their own individual civil rights” not those of offer plaintiffs or “unnamed parties.”


What’s next

RACINE — Now that the city has filed its motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought against it and 14 former and current city officials, the former bar owners who filed the original lawsuit will have 21 days to file a response.

After their attorneys have filed a response, the defense will have 14 days to file a reply brief.

If the court does not hold an oral argument on the city’s motion, it will decide whether or not to dismiss the case by issuing a written decision. The court could decide to grant the city its motion to dismiss on all grounds, some of the grounds, or it could decide to deny the motion.

It could take the court anywhere from a month to six months to issue its decision.

Filed on Feb. 25 in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the lawsuit against the city is being brought by Thomas Holmes, the former owner of Park 6; former alderman Keith Fair, who owned The Place on Sixth; Pythaphone Khampane and Omjai Nuekeaw, operators of the former Ginger’s Lounge; Wilbur Jones, who owned Viper’s Lounge; Cerafin Davalos, who owned Cera’s Tequila Bar; and Jose and Maria Maldonado of the former Cruise Inn.

According to the motion to dismiss filed Friday, however, the Maldonados should be barred from being part of the suit, because the of the six-year statute of limitations. The Maldonados are claiming injuries based on alleged incidents that took place between 2006 and January 2007.

The plaintiffs are seeking triple damages as part of the complaint, as well as reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and other costs associated with bringing the lawsuit.

The city has spent $4,379.50 in legal fees arguing the case, Deputy City Attorney Scott Letteney said Friday.

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