Jerseys Bar loses bias suit against city
Seattle Times staff reporter
A federal-court jury yesterday flatly rejected allegations that the city of Seattle and its police department conspired to close a downtown club because it played hip-hop music and catered to blacks.
The jury deliberated for fewer than eight hours - after a 10-day trial - before returning a unanimous verdict in favor of the city and some of its ranking public and police officials.
"This is reaffirming," said City Council President Margaret Pageler, who was one of the defendants accused of conspiring against Jerseys All American Sports Bar and its owner, Chris Clifford.
"I'm obviously pleased with the verdict, but I'm concerned that there is this kind of second-guessing of legislative decisions in court," she said.
Pageler and police say they were responding to public-safety concerns when they turned their attention to Jerseys in 1991 and '92. Crime in the neighborhood around Virginia Street and Seventh Avenue increased after Jerseys began offering a hip-hop venue on weekends and staying open after hours, they said.
Moreover, the city insisted that Clifford had never obtained a so-called "added activities" permit needed to offer music and dancing - a contention he disputed.
But the jury found that he didn't have the permit, which was the pivotal question in the verdict. Since he never had the permit, he could not show that the city had violated his rights by trying to take it away.
Clifford was seeking more than $1 million in damages and had asked the jury to impose punitive damages against the individual defendants.
Clifford and his attorney, Suzanne Thomas, seemed stunned by the verdict. They vowed to appeal and Thomas said she will ask U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik to enter a judgment against the city notwithstanding the jury's verdict.
Thomas contends that Lasnik should have found, even before the trial started, that the city violated Jerseys' due-process rights because the added-activities law has since been struck down as unconstitutional.
"I'm disappointed. I think we showed what we needed to show," Clifford said. "But I think it's tough for people to believe their city officials are capable of doing something like this and we just couldn't overcome it. It was a complicated case."
And a controversial one. Clifford accused the city of harassing him by ordering an audit of the bar just before the trial began, and then issuing an arrest warrant on a series of 7-year-old citations the day he testified.
City attorneys insisted the audit and warrants were coincidental to the trial.
Clifford contended that city officials and police had turned their attention to Jerseys not because of increased crime but because his club was attracting crowds of young African Americans into downtown who were then being stereotyped as gangsters and criminals.
He argued that when police failed to find a legitimate way to shut him down - they did not find drugs or underage patrons in the bar - they reverted to unconventional and illegal means.
Attorneys for the city and the individual defendants, who besides Pageler included former Mayor Norm Rice, Assistant Police Chief Clark Kimerer, police Capt. Joseph Kessler and others, did not believe the jurors were confused or in denial. Rice and Kimerer didn't return calls for comment. Kessler declined to comment.
"We won because it didn't happen," said attorney Stephen Larson, whose firm, Stafford Frey Cooper, had been hired to defend the city. "This is good news for the city and its citizens to know that when Seattle officials act, they don't do it on the basis of race," he said.
"I think Chris Clifford should be happy with the verdict, too," added David Onsager, another attorney for the city. "You should ask him whether he'd rather have $1 million and live in a city where race motivates things like this, or a city where people do these things for the right reasons."
Mike Carter's phone message number is 206-464-3706. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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