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City: No evidence, 'subjective beliefs' in minority bars lawsuit

City: No evidence, 'subjective beliefs' in minority bars lawsuit

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City Hall

City Hall, 730 Washington Ave. The city is making its final push to dismiss a lawsuit filed by minority bar owners claiming discrimination.

RACINE — The City of Racine is making its final push to dismiss the civil rights lawsuit brought against it by former minority bar owners.

In a motion for summary judgment filed late Wednesday night with the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, attorneys for the city say the case should not go to trial, arguing, among other things, that there is no proof the city and other defendants racially discriminated against the plaintiffs or their businesses.

The seven plaintiffs first sued the city in February 2014, accusing Mayor John Dickert and more than 15 other defendants of engaging in an elaborate plot to drive minority bar owners out of the city.

Since that date the plaintiffs’ case has shrunk dramatically, both in the number of defendants being sued and the violations being claimed.

The city’s motion for summary judgment comes just two days after the plaintiffs agreed to dismiss all racketeering-related claims in the case, further reducing the number of the defendants in the case to nine: Mayor John Dickert, former Mayor Gary Becker, former Racine Police Chief Kurt Wahlen, Alderman Jim Kaplan, former aldermen Greg Helding, David Maack, Aron Wisneski and Robert Mozol, and the city itself.

Attempts to reach attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case were unsuccessful Tuesday and Thursday.

City: No evidence

The latest motion filed by the city seeks to dismiss the remaining civil rights claims, arguing that the plaintiffs could produce no evidence showing that actions by the city and other defendants relating to the plaintiffs and their bars were racially motivated.

The plaintiffs “do not have a single piece of evidence (other than their own subjective beliefs, which is insufficient to avoid summary judgment) that any of the (defendants) took any adverse action against them because of their race or the race of their patrons,” the motion states. “Their interrogatory responses are devoid of any such facts and they could not provide any evidence of discriminatory intent at their respective depositions.”

The motion states that Keith Fair, a former alderman and owner of The Place on 6th, reportedly testified that Wisneski, a former alderman, discriminated against him because he wanted to “clear black people off of Sixth Street,” but later said he had no personal knowledge of Wisneski, or other liquor board members he had accused of racism, ever making derogatory statements about minorities.

Unidentified bars

Plaintiffs were also unable to identify similarly situated white-owned bars that were treated differently by the city, the defense argues.

The former co-owner of the Cruise Inn, when asked in his deposition if he was aware of any bar that was treated differently than his bar, eventually states “let’s put it this way. I don’t know.”

The plaintiffs also fail to show how Dickert or Becker played any role in having their licenses revoked, the defense argues, since neither mayor sat or sits on the Public Safety and Licensing Committee.

While the committee makes recommendations on whether to revoke or suspend a license, the full City Council has the final say. And there is no evidence that a majority of the 15-member City Council “acted with a discriminatory intent with respect to the plaintiffs’ liquor licenses,” the motion states.

It wasn’t the skin color of the bar owners or their patrons that compelled the Public Safety and Licensing Committee to pursue actions against the bars, but rather incidents at the establishments owned by the plaintiffs, the defense argues. Even if the plaintiffs could establish that there are indeed white-owned bars serving mostly white customers that are treated differently, those bars had fewer incidents, the motion states.

The “twelve white owned bars with white patrons” left unidentified in the plaintiffs’ complaint combined had 588 calls for service from law enforcement, compared to 600 for Viper’s Lounge, one of the minority-owned bars, the motion stated.

What’s next

Now that the city has filed its motion for the summary judgment, the plaintiffs will have until Sept. 16 to respond. The city’s reply brief is due Sept. 21.

A trial in the case is still set for Nov. 16, though the judge in the case could issue a decision before that time.


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