The owners and operators of a controversial Lawrence nightclub were found to be in violation of a court order for continuing to operate their establishment illegally.
Douglas County District Judge Michael Malone issued the ruling Friday against Club Axis, 821 Iowa, and will consider issuing sanctions against the establishment next month.
“It’s clear that the club is in violation,” said Malone, after listening to nearly three hours of testimony in the case.
Lawrence police have connected Club Axis, also referred to as 821 Club, to multiple shootings and stabbings over the years, including the May 2005 stabbing of former Kansas University basketball player J.R. Giddens, when the establishment was known as the Moon Bar.
After a shooting last month outside the club, city leaders asked the court to find the operators of the club in contempt of court for failing to comply with the judge’s orders and operating the business without filing an approved site plan with the city.
Brian Johnson, an attorney for Club Axis, said the city has mangled the facts and that its primary goal is to shut down the business.
“I don’t think the city should try to deny citizens of the community from operating a business, simply because of fears of violence that have nothing to do with that operation,” Johnson said in court.
A lawyer for the city claims the city is not trying to shut the establishment down, it is only trying to get it to abide by the law.
“We don’t want to engage in the battle of trying to run somebody out of town,” said Jerry Cooley, an attorney for the city government.
Violence was not at the forefront of Friday’s hearing, instead the two sides spent more than two hours arguing about the number of parking spots required outside the establishment.
When the bar opened as Moon Bar, it was done so in compliance with city code. The establishment was considered to be a bar complete with pool tables and booths. It had a maximum occupancy of 225 people and 57 parking spaces.
But when it became Club Axis and the pool tables and booths were removed, fire investigators determined a new maximum occupancy of 352 patrons and the city considered the establishment to be a nightclub.
The change came after a significant change to the city code in 2006, which calculates the required number of parking spots differently. The establishment is now required to have 118 parking spots, plus enough parking for the establishment’s workers.
When the city discovered the establishment’s use had changed, it gave the club three options for complying with city code: Asking the Lawrence-Douglas County planning commission to cut them a break, decreasing the maximum occupancy level inside the club or working out an arrangement with an adjoining business to utilize its parking lot.
While city officials said the management of the club did make attempts to come up with a remedy, they weren’t sufficient and an appropriate site plan was never filed with the city. After trying to work with the establishment, the city took the matter to court, where Judge Malone found that the club was violating city law.
“The city’s arguments are simply a distortion and I think really in bad faith,” said Johnson, who claimed the club was not in violation of the court’s order.
Johnson claimed the club was doing nothing wrong. After the judge’s order, Johnson said, it began allowing fewer than 225 people in the club at any given time, which was the arrangement when the establishment operated as Moon Bar.
Malone didn’t buy the argument and ruled in favor of the city. The judge will consider issuing sanctions in the case on Sept. 11.
After the hearing, Johnson said it was his opinion that the club could continue to operate until told otherwise.