Daily Record (June 26, 1997)
Karaoke clubs accuse Palisades Park of bias in suit
By Adam Geller
Three late-night karoke clubs in Palisades Park are suing the borough, claiming that officials are carrying out a campaign of discrimination against businesses owned by Korean-Americans.
The lawsuit reignites a racially charged dispute between borough officials and Korean merchants, who recently have tried to set aside differences.
But owners of the clubs argue that despite a compromise between some merchants and Palisades Park officials, the borough continues to enforce laws unfairly targeting businesses owned and frequented by Korean-Americans.
Their suit challenges laws in Palisades Park that bar businesses from staying open around the clock, require the clubs to keep customers from bringing in alcohol, and mandate English-language signs.
Palisades Park “has adopted an unstated policy of discriminating against Korean nationals and businesses owned by Korean nationals in pursuance of a pattern of unlawful, invidious discrimination,” says the suit, filed Monday in federal court in Newark. A hearing is set for July 9.
But Mayor Sandy Farber on Wednesday dismissed allegations of discrimination and said bad publicity engendered by the suit would keep shoppers away from Palisades Park and cost the borough and the businesses a lot of money.
“Anybody who knows me knows that I am not anti-Korean, I am pro-Palisades Park,” Farber said. “It [the lawsuit] is preposterous, and they are causing tremendous harm to all the merchants in this town.”
Farber is named in the suit, along with the borough, former Mayor Susan Spohn, current and former members of the council, Police Chief John Genovese, and unnamed police officers.
The suit was filed by the Music City, New Jersey Music Studio, and Dolce Music Studio clubs, all of which are on Broad Avenue.
The owners of the karaoke clubs – where customers rent small soundproof rooms to sing along with music videos – say that the borough actions are motivated partly be revenge over another lawsuit.
That lawsuit, filed last year by a Korean-American businessman in Ridgefield, challenged laws in Palisades Park and four other Bergen County towns requiring store signs to carry English wording.
KARAOKE : Pal Park sued
A judge later restricted that suit to allegations against Ridgefield, which recently settled the case and has repealed its sign law.
That lawsuit did not involve any merchants in Palisades Park. Soon after it was filed, however, the borough cracked down on Korean-American businesses, enforcing a three-year-old law prohibiting consumption of alcohol in businesses lacking a liquor license, said Christine M. Bae, the lawyer for the clubs.
The clubs’ lawsuit alleges that in the past year, borough police officers have entered the clubs a number of times without warrants and searched the premises for liquor. Club owners acknowledge that some liquor was found, but say they should not be held liable for drinks patrons bring with them.
Genovese, the police chief, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The borough’s deputy police chief, Michael Vietri, said he did not want to comment until he had received and read the lawsuit.
Some leaders of the borough’s Korean-American community said Wednesday that they did not support the lawsuit, despite their objections to the activities of borough officials.
“I would urge them to drop the suit and try to find some kind of agreement, because everybody will lose if this lawsuit continues,” said Jason Kim, who helped broker an earlier compromise between the borough and restaurant owners. “I understand why they’re suing, because they’re pushed into a corner because of financial hardship, but that doesn’t justify it still.”
The president of the borough’s chamber of commerce, Changwon Lee, said his group is “not endorsing that suit.”
Lee said the chamber still has a number of disagreements with the borough, but he would not say whether his group was actively opposing the suit. Citing difficulties with English, he referred questions to another chamber official, who could not be reached.
Spohn said the filing of a lawsuit despite compromises by the borough proves the clubs’ complaints are not about discrimination.
“This is an economic issue vs. a quality of life [issue],” she said. “Obviously they want to be open 24 hours to make more money.”
Until the lawsuit was filed, tensions between the borough and Korean business owners had cooled, following a compromise over closing hours for the town’s late-night Korean restaurants.
That compromise allows five eateries to stay open until 4 a.m., an hour later than the closing time set last year by Spohn and her administration. The only exception to that ordinance was for a diner owned by a Greek-American, which is still allowed to stay open around the clock.
The karaoke clubs were not included in the compromise agreement, and an ordinance remains on the books requiring them to close by 9 p.m. But Farber said a tacit agreement allows them to stay open until 3 a.m.
Farber said he met with Korean-American business and community leaders and pastors at the borough’s largest Korean church last week to try to head off the lawsuit, to no avail.
Bae said it is up to the borough to change its stance.
“I haven’t discussed any settlement option with my clients, and I don’t think they would be prone to any kind of settlement until these laws are banned,” she said.
Farber said there was a good chance the town would repeal the portion of the law requiring the clubs to close at 9 p.m. and that Palisades Park has not been enforcing the sign law.
However, the 3 a.m. closing time and prohibitions on liquor consumption are reasonable and will stand, he said.
The president of the Borough Council, Louis Vidal, said the laws were set by the council for the benefit of the borough, not to discriminate against the merchants.
“By no sense of the imagination are we targeting a minority group in Palisadess Park,” he said.