Owner fights closing of club City's contention of safety issue contested in court

December 27, 1997|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

The owner of a Northeast Baltimore nightclub shut down by the city four days before Christmas has taken his case to court, characterizing the closing as a "jihad" and "a campaign of community pacification for political purposes."

The city defended the closing yesterday and disputed the contentions of Club Inn owner Anthony Faust.

"It's a clear and simple case of public safety," said housing department spokesman Zack Germroth.

Faust's Club Inn, which holds a banquet-hall license valid until July 28, was closed Sunday during a raid organized after complaints from neighbors about shootings, loud music and public drinking. The club is in a strip mall at 5418-32 Sinclair Lane and is surrounded by a residential area.

Monday, the day after the raid, city officials described the closing as part of an initiative started late last year by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to stop illegal and unsafe activity at nightclubs. Germroth estimated that at least a dozen similar facilities had been closed by the city in the past year.

Tuesday, Faust sought a restraining order and injunction in Baltimore Circuit Court, asking to be allowed to reopen. Judge Ellen M. Heller issued no ruling but granted the city a continuance. The case is to be heard at 2 p.m. Monday by Judge John Carroll Byrnes.

Named in the suit are Daniel P. Henson III, the city housing commissioner, and an aide, Reginald Scriber. Both accompanied Baltimore police during the raid that led to the immediate closing of the nightclub.

"This is a kind of David-and-Goliath situation," said Edward Smith Jr., an attorney who represents Faust. "They're doing it because they think they have the power."

Smith said the closing came at a critical time of year for Faust's nightclub. "This is a busy time because people are throwing parties," he said.

The closing disrupted bookings for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, this weekend and the remainder of the holiday week, he said. He described Faust as a small businessman backed by investors who will not be able to make up the losses.

The request for a restraining order was filed, Smith said, because the city did not grant his client due process.

"Nothing in the Baltimore City Code allows the defendant Henson or Scriber to revoke a permit without a due process hearing," the suit said. "The stance taken by Henson is no more than an effort to extend the powers of a semipublic official run amok."

Henson did not return calls yesterday seeking comment. But Germroth said the closing came after several citizen complaints sent police and housing officials to the nightclub.

"We feel confident that our actions were appropriate and within our realm of legality -- and most definitely within the greater realm of public safety," Germroth said. "It was a surprise to us that it would be challenged."

Germroth said that although citizen complaints were the initial reason for the official interest in the Club Inn, the city's decision to close it was a matter of public safety. He characterized safety violations found by police and housing officials as substantive but declined to provide details.

The facility is zoned for a banquet hall, but Germroth questioned whether that was an accurate description of the Club Inn's business as observed the night of the raid.

"If there was food in there, it was difficult to find," he said.

Pub Date: 12/27/97

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