Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Arts group, coalition settle pair of lawsuits



By Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Cincinnati Arts Association and the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati settled two lawsuits Tuesday against each other over boycott-related issues.

The settlement dismisses the arts association's lawsuit in the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati and the coalition's lawsuit in the U.S. District Court.

Under terms of the settlement, the arts association has agreed to allow the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati - one of three groups calling for an economic boycott of the city - free use of Memorial Hall to hold a series of four public forums during the next year.

The CAA also agreed to underscore and enhance its education and arts-related programs and performances by adding events at schools and other locations in poorer communities.

No money changed hands as a result of the settlement, nor did the coalition agree to stop asking entertainers to avoid performing in Cincinnati.

"The suits were never about money," said Lucian Bernard, the Covington attorney who represented the coalition. "This settlement reflects the fact that the parties in this case were not enemies of one another. Both sides were looking for ways to get it out of the courtroom and back in the marketplace of ideas."

The arts association, which oversees the Aronoff Center for the Arts, Music Hall and Memorial Hall, sued the coalition in March for $86,000 in lost ticket sales, claiming the boycott group was interfering with legal contracts between the association and performers.

In the past 18 months, the coalition has persuaded comedian Bill Cosby, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and singer Smokey Robinson to cancel shows.

The coalition also filed suit, alleging the CAA tried to intimidate it into silence with a threat of legal action.

In August, a Hamilton County common pleas judge dismissed the arts association's lawsuit, citing the First Amendment, which allows citizens to speak their opinions freely. The CAA appealed that decision despite advice from Mayor Charlie Luken and a Hamilton County commissioner to drop the suit.

Steve Loftin, president and executive director of the CAA, said the arts group hopes the settlement encourages others to work together.

"The continuation of these lawsuits really didn't serve either of our best interests," Loftin said. "As things progressed, it became clear that it was going to be a lengthy (legal) process.

"We feel this could be an opportunity for some forward motion in our community."

Bernard said the fact the CAA would donate one of its facilities to the coalition at no cost speaks to the arts group's commitment to social justice.

"It was a good, positive, conciliatory gesture and it was a way for the arts associations to say that they share a lot of the concern for the well-being of all people in Cincinnati," Bernard said.

Email: kaldridge@enquirer.com




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