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- Last Call shooting suspect arrested (02-16-08)
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Another legal battle may be brewing over the former home of the downtown nightclub Last Call.
Landlords for the former club at 729 N.H. have filed a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court seeking to evict Dennis Steffes' company - which operated the hip-hop club Last Call - from the premises.
An attorney for the Park Hetzel III Trust, which owns the property, has argued in court filings that Steffes' company has violated the lease for the property by allowing a nuisance to exist and by not meeting all "requirements of municipal and governmental authorities in the use of the premises."
Terence Leibold, an attorney for the Hetzel Trust, declined to comment further when reached on Tuesday. He said he expected more details to come out in trial. Steffes has the right to contest the eviction, and Leibold said he expected a legal battle would have to be waged.
"I think it certainly will be contested," Leibold said.
Dan Owen, an attorney for Steffes, said his client plans to fight the eviction.
"Mr. Steffes is not in violation of any provision of the lease," Owen said.
The eviction efforts come after a Feb. 10 incident where three people were shot outside the club. Following that incident, Steffes said he would not reopen the club, which has been the subject of multiple complaints related to illegal gun activity. But Steffes said he did plan to keep the lease at the building and open another business that met with city leaders' approval. Owen said he's uncertain whether Steffes still wants to open another business, but said he does want to keep the lease.
"The lease is a valuable property right that can be assigned or subleased to other business people," Owen said.
If the eviction proceeding is successful, Steffes would not be able to open a new business at the location.
A hearing has been scheduled in the case at 8:30 a.m. on March 7 before Douglas County District Court Judge Michael Malone. At that hearing, Steffes will have the chance to contest the eviction. If he does contest, a trial could be set within eight days.
The court filings in the case shed some light on behind-the-scenes efforts to rein in Last Call's operations. Leibold's filing with the court states that he sent a letter on Jan. 16, 2007, to Steffes' company saying it breached the lease and demanding that Steffes' company begin complying with the lease.
The letter gave Steffes' company 10 days to describe what steps had been taken to correct the problems, which included persistent nuisances that "create disruptions or lead to involvement by the Lawrence Police Department."
According to the filing, Steffes denied the claim that the business had become a nuisance, and "failed to take any action" to correct the issues identified by the landlord. Owen said the letter never provided specific problems to correct.
Following that January letter, the landlord did not take any more immediate action to have Steffes' company evicted from the premises. Leibold declined to comment on why no immediate action was taken in January 2007, saying that issue likely would be addressed at trial.
The court filing also revealed that City Manager David Corliss sent a letter to both the landlord and Steffes' company on March 5, 2007, notifying both that Last Call constituted a nuisance.
But Toni Wheeler, director of legal services for the city, said the city did not pursue formal legal charges against Last Call as a nuisance. Instead, city staff chose to focus its efforts on opposing the renewal of the club's liquor license with the state because they thought that course had a higher likelihood of success.
On June 5, 2007, the landlords sent a similar letter to Last Call notifying Steffes that they also believed the business was a nuisance and was violating its lease. But the official court filing to start the process of eviction did not begin until last week, after which point the most recent shootings ignited a new round of community concern over downtown safety.
Steffes has a history of vigorously defending legal actions involving his business. He was the club owner who unsuccessfully challenged the city's smoking ban, claiming it was unconstitutional. Steffes took that case all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court before losing. He also has fought a ruling by the Kansas Department of Revenue refusing to renew his liquor license for Last Call. He has put that case on hold following his decision to close the club.