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Smoking-ban lawsuits face long odds, legal expert says

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Ten bar owners who are taking Indianapolis to court over a new citywide smoking ban that takes effect Friday at 6 a.m. stand little chance of stopping the ordinance, an Indianapolis law professor predicts.

The federal suits, filed over the past two weeks, claim the ordinance violates the Fourth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the 14th Amendment provides equal protection under the law.

The owners, who are representing themselves without an attorney, say they’re being deprived of the same rights afforded to private clubs, which are exempt from the ban.

They also charge that the ban violates other sections of the Constitution by allowing smoking in bars in Beech Grove, Lawrence, Speedway and Southport, also  located within Marion County.

The bar owners are asking a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction to halt the ban until their arguments are heard.

The ordinance, signed by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard April 19, expands existing citywide restrictions against indoor public smoking to include bowling alleys, hotel rooms and most bars. Tobacco shops, hookah bars, existing not-for-profit private clubs and downtown's off-track betting parlor are exempt from the ban.

David Orentlicher, a constitutional law professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis, said he doubts the lawsuits will succeed.

“We’ve had smoking bans in a lot of states for quite some time, and there is no question about their constitutional validity,” he said. “You’re regulating businesses, and the Constitution allows that.”

The bar owners' Fourth Amendment argument would pertain to fair enforcement of the law rather than its passage, Orentlicher said. And to bring a 14th Amendment claim, the owners would need to argue that the ban is perhaps discriminatory by targeting a specific race or gender.

“They would have to prove [that the city is] acting on biases rather than legitimate public policy,” Orentlicher said. “There’s nothing in the smoking ban that suggests that.”

Rhoda Walker, who owns the Casino Lounge at 1711 E. Minnesota St., disagrees, saying that the smoking rights afforded to private clubs and other bars within Marion County are a violation of her constitutional rights.

“You can’t give one group rights and take them away from the other group,” she said. “Why would they come to my bar when they can go to Beech Grove and smoke.”

Other bars challenging the ban are Blue Chaparral, 5030 Southeastern Ave.; Catalina Bar, 3032 E. Washington St.; Colonial Inn, 4343 Madison Ave.; DJ’s Lounge, 1707 Prospect St.; Dancers, 8013 W. Washington St.; Maggie’s Lounge, 453 N. Rural St.; Riff Raff’s Bar, 2409 English Ave.; Road Dog Saloon, 4861 Southeastern Ave.; and Sugar Shack, 5560 Brookville Road

Meanwhile, City officials say they haven’t seen the lawsuits but are not surprised considering that similar challenges have been filed in other cities with smoking bans.

“We’re confident we’re going to prevail,” said Mark Lotter, spokesman for Ballard.

Tobacco specialty bars need to apply for a new license from the city’s Department of Code Enforcement to allow smoking in their establishments. The department has identified about a dozen that should apply for the specialty license. As of Tuesday, only three had applied, said Kate Johnson, spokeswoman for the department.

Those are Nicky Blaines at 20 N. Meridian St.; Indy Cigar Bar at 3357 E. 86th St.; and Egyptian Cafe & Hookah Bar at 6265 Carrollton Ave.

Those that fail to apply for the license will receive a “uniform traffic ticket” with a court date. The city prosecutor will drop the charge if they apply for a license before their court date, Johnson said.

To ensure bars are complying with the ban, the city has 24 property, safety and maintenance inspectors who can investigate violation complaints the city might receive.

The first citation is a $100 fine, the second is $200 and the third will lead to an appearance in the city’s environmental court, where a judge might levy a $2,500 penalty.

Citations can be issued to the bar or property owner, as well as the smoker.

Although the city will rely on citizen complaints to drive enforcement, Johnson said businesses that choose to ignore the ban won’t fly under the radar for long.

“We’ll do a lot of sweeps,” she said.

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  1. Im very happy for you, getting ready to go down that dirt road myself, and im praying for the same outcome, because it IS sometimes in the childs best interest to have visitation with grandparents. Thanks for sharing, needed to hear some positive posts for once.

  2. Been there 4 months with 1 paycheck what can i do

  3. our hoa has not communicated any thing that takes place in their "executive meetings" not executive session. They make decisions in these meetings, do not have an agenda, do not notify association memebers and do not keep general meetings minutes. They do not communicate info of any kind to the member, except annual meeting, nobody attends or votes because they think the board is self serving. They keep a deposit fee from club house rental for inspection after someone uses it, there is no inspection I know becausee I rented it, they did not disclose to members that board memebers would be keeping this money, I know it is only 10 dollars but still it is not their money, they hire from within the board for paid positions, no advertising and no request for bids from anyone else, I atteended last annual meeting, went into executive session to elect officers in that session the president brought up the motion to give the secretary a raise of course they all agreed they hired her in, then the minutes stated that a diffeerent board member motioned to give this raise. This board is very clickish and has done things anyway they pleased for over 5 years, what recourse to members have to make changes in the boards conduct

  4. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  5. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

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