Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Judge to rule if CAA suit valid

Six identified as boycott activists

By Marie McCain, mmccain@enquirer.com
and Kevin Aldridge, kaldridge@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Hamilton County judge will decide in the coming weeks whether to dismiss the Cincinnati Arts Association's lawsuit against boycott activists or to allow the case to head to trial.

        “No matter what this court does there will be some kind of appeal,” Common Pleas Judge Thomas Nurre said Monday during oral arguments in the $500,000 lawsuit.

        The CAA's lawsuit, filed in March, seeks to recover financial damages the organization says it incurred after a number of entertainers canceled performances.

        CAA officials identify six people they believe are responsible for writing and mailing letters that ask entertainers to avoid performing in Cincinnati.

        These are the same six individuals the CAA met with in January in an attempt to negotiate an agreement that might have prevented Bill Cosby from canceling his scheduled March performances at the Aronoff Center for the Arts.

        The talks were unsuccessful. Since then, Whoopi Goldberg, Wynton Marsalis, The O'Jays, and The Temptations have canceled shows at CAA venues.

        Attorneys for the six — the Rev. James W. Jones, the Rev. Stephen Scott, the Rev. Donald Sherman, Amanda Mayes, Michelle Taylor Mitchell and Linda Newman — say the CAA's lawsuit is an attempt to inhibit their clients' free speech and intimidate them into not exercising their Constitutional rights.

        “They are three ministers, a grandmother, a student and a library professional....They love their community and they want it to stand for justice for all. And as a result of their efforts, they are being sued,” said defense attorney Lucian Bernard.

        “This is a political boycott to ask the city of Cincinnati to change its policies, to change its politics. In the end, the arts association seeks to solve a political issue legally.... To take the property and savings (of these six individuals) will not solve this problem,” he said.

        CAA attorneys countered that their client is “an innocent” caught in the misdirected crosshairs of an economic boycott designed to hurt the city and county government.

        “They may have social disagreements with other segments of our city, but they've said they have "no beef' with the CAA. This is not the city of Cincinnati. This is an independent, nonprofit, private organization — the Cincinnati Arts Association,” said Edward Marks, a CAA attorney.

        He said he believes the suit is justified and wants Judge Nurre to order the defendants to disclose the names and personal information of others who might have been involved.

        The CAA did not include the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati as a defendant in its suit because that group was not legally incorporated at the time.

        “They say this is political speech, yet they are not directing that at the political body when they go to our artists and cut off our supply of entertainers,” Mr. Marks said. “To speak freely in America is a right that has a price tag. We are permitted to speak freely but required to stand by the cost of that speech.”

        Outside the courtroom following Monday's arguments, those named in the suit remained defiant.

        “If you think the boycott is going to quit because of this frivolous lawsuit, you've got another thing coming,” said the Rev. Mr. Scott. “We are not boycotting the CAA, we are boycotting an area, a demographic. If they want to have entertainment, have it someplace else.”

        Coalition members have claimed that the CAA is acting on behalf of the city in an effort to silence the boycott through legal intimidation.

        The Rev. Mr. Scott said the arts group's ties with City Hall are too close to ignore. He says Mayor Charlie Luken sits on the CAA's board of directors and that many of its facilities have been funded with public dollars.

        Defendants also got a boost Monday from the Cincinnati AFL-CIO, which filed a brief in support of their motion to dismiss the CAA's lawsuit.


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