A Chicago federal judge has stripped a former Broadview mayor from a suit by a group, which wants to open an adults-only club in the west suburban village, saying the group failed to prove the then-mayor did not enjoy the immunity of a public official in denouncing the proposed establishment.
U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee dropped former Broadview Mayor Henry Vicenick from an action brought in 2007 by a group known as Chicago Joe’s Tea Room LLC.
Chicago Joe’s sought permission in 2006 from the Broadview Village Board to establish a strip club in an area zoned for industrial use. The village's zoning board of appeals recommended the village board deny the request, because alcohol was to be served at the club. This was barred by an ordinance regulating adult businesses.
The village board then voted to deny the request, but Vicenick, who was mayor at the time, did not vote. However, Vicenick did speak against Chicago Joe's request at hearings conducted by both boards.
Chicago Joe’s and Pervis Conway, the owner of the proposed site for the club, then sued, alleging village officials violated their constitutional right to free expression. Plaintiffs sought damages and an order letting them open the club.
Judge Lee found the village was correct in denying the permit and dismissed the case against the village board members for damages, on grounds they enjoyed qualified immunity as public officials.
However, Lee did not dismiss the damages claim against Vicenick.
Vicenick then argued he did not take part in the vote and, besides, was also entitled to immunity as mayor. Plaintiffs countered Vicenick involved himself in the vote by speaking ill of the proposed club to zoning board and village board members before they voted.
Plaintiffs contended Vicenick was not immune, because he knew Chicago Joe’s was a “constitutional business” and denying the permit would violate its rights.
Lee pointed to a 1982 U. S. Supreme Court decision in an immunity case, which found an official’s state of mind or knowledge of law was not pertinent.
“Whatever Vicenik knew or thought he knew regarding the constitutionality of Chicago Joe’s proposal is irrelevant to the qualified immunity analysis,” Lee concluded.
In Lee’s view, Chicago Joe’s also failed to demonstrate government officials violated the First Amendment and suppressed speech, by using an ordinance to deny a permit. Lee noted such a “constitutional standard” may have been in place in 2007, but plaintiffs needed to show this was the case.
Chicago Joe’s also sought to amend its original complaint and attack a state law, which prohibits strip clubs within one mile of such institutions as schools and churches, saying the law effectively bars a strip club anywhere in a town the size of Broadview. However, Lee recently shut down Chicago Joe’s attempt.
Published reports indicate Chicago Joe’s is publicly headed by a businessman identified as David Donahue, who also played a role in developing the Polekatz strip club in west suburban Bridgeview. Chicago Joe’s also sued Bridgeview, before the group was allowed to open the club in that community.
As far as others presumably involved with Donahue in Chicago Joe’s, their identities are hidden by what judges have said are corporate aliases and a “tangled record of transactions,” which include an “obscure trail of contracts, trusts and illusory commitments,” that “seem designed to conceal the real parties in interest and their substantive deals.”
Chicago Joe’s is represented by: Ungaretti & Harris, of Chicago; Nixon Peabody LLP, of Chicago; Marquardt, Kallas & Belmonte, of Wheaton; Fox Rothschild LLP, of Chicago; and Lyons lawyer Michael Maksimovich.
Vicenick is represented by: Del Galdo Law Group, of Berwyn; Andreou & Casson, of Chicago; and Philip M. Fornaro & Associates, of LaGrange.