Ruling that their cases had no merit, Jefferson Circuit Judge Martin McDonald dismissed two lawsuits that delayed results of a special election banning alcohol sales in four Shawnee neighborhood precincts. Last September, 86-percent of residents in those Shawnee precincts (N104, N105, N107 and N109), an area that includes a sliver of Portland, voted to ban alcohol sales.
Last week LEO reported on the ongoing legal battle between residents and store owners, punctuated by series of “Respect the Vote” rallies by dry supporters. The lawsuits, filed on behalf of five business owners and ten residents, alleged improper electioneering, use of illegal polling stations, that residents were ignorant about the implications of their votes, and that at least one registered voter was turned away. Also tied to the lawsuit was the accusation of racial discrimination on the part of dry supporters. Most of the store owners affected by the ban are of Palestinian descent.
Addressing the issue of anti-Arab discrimination, Judge McDonald’s ruling read:
“This is not a ban on the sale of alcohol by those of Palestinian descent; no one will be permitted to sell alcohol…Further, nothing prevents the affected license holders from engaging in other types of business within any of the four precincts.”
“I’m relieved that Judge McDonald respected the vote,” said Rev. Clay Calloway, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Coalition. Rev. Calloway and others saw the lawsuits as an attempt to ignore the communities voice, which believes banning alcohol will help deter crime and ameliorate their neighborhoods. “People now see our vote does count,” said Rev. Jeff Ellis, pastor of Greater St. James AME, who has been intimately involved with the dry movement since it began. Rev. Ellis concurred with the sentiment of relief but added that the message from the vote supplemented by Judge McDonald’s decision is clear. “The folk in opposition to us now know the game is up,” he said.
Councilwoman Cheri Bryant-Hamilton, who has been a visible supporter of the ban since last year agreed. Hamilton had taken several shots since the lawsuits were filed. She was specifically named in at least one of the lawsuits for violating electioneering laws, which may have been why she was publicly reticent about the issue until a few weeks ago. The opposition also highlighted that the exemption of precinct N106 was due to her relationship to Anthony French, who owned Shawnee Plaza, a tiny mall in the Shawnee neighborhood that sells alcohol. According to election records French contributed more than $1,100 to both of Councilwoman Hamilton’s reelection campaigns.
Hamilton told LEO she now feels personally vindicated by McDonald’s decision. “Throughout this process we were confident that everything was done legally,” she said. “Hopefully the owners of these establishments will respect the judges decision and stop selling alcohol immediately.”
“My clients are disappointed with the decision,” said attorney Thurman Senn, who represents three of the store owners who filed the lawsuit after the vote. Senn briefly spoke with his clients after receiving McDonald’s decision. He declined further comment but told LEO he plans to speak with his clients tomorrow afternoon to discuss the decision in detail.
Attorney Terry Gordon, who represented the plaintiffs in the other lawsuit, could not be reached for comment. (pb)