Nuns dressed down by judge in lawsuit with strip club

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An order of nuns will have to get more explicit if they want to win a lawsuit against a strip club that moved into their Melrose Park neighborhood, a Cook County judge said Tuesday.

Chancery Court Judge Peter Flynn tossed nearly every charge in a lawsuit filed by the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo against Club Allure, telling lawyers for the nuns and other disgruntled neighbors that their case against the club lacked details of how the presence of the strip club has hurt the surrounding neighborhood.

“One can’t subject someone to a lawsuit because ‘Oh, he makes too much noise.’ You have to be specific,” Flynn said.

The lawsuit may claim that the club bombards its neighbors with thumping music, and that the lap dances going on inside amount to prostitution — but they don’t flesh out the case with details, Flynn said.

“What we need is specifics,” he said, pondering whether there was one fight outside the club or 100. “There is an awful lot of bad language and there is what comes close to in this court’s view, to legal hysteria. … There is a lot of nasty adjectives but not a lot of facts.”

Lawyers for the sisters and a group of residents will be allowed to re-file their complaint in mid-April, a deadline Flynn extended after attorneys for the nuns pointed out the judge’s first choice for a filing date fell the day before Good Friday.

Flynn also dismissed several defendants in the case, including a half dozen corporations that either no longer operate or seemed to have little connection to Club Allure. The judge also ruled that local zoning rules aren’t trumped by a state law the nuns say requires a 1,000-foot buffer between churches or schools.

Robert Itzkow, a lawyer and former investor in the club, crowed about Flynn’s “complete repudiation” of the sisters’ lawsuit, and hinted that he might file a lawsuit himself over disparaging remarks by the nuns.

Attorney for Stone Lake Partners and former strip club owner Robert Itzkow talked to reporters after a hearing at the Daley Center Tuesday. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Attorney for Stone Lake Partners and former strip club owner Robert Itzkow talked to reporters after a hearing at the Daley Center Tuesday. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

“I love it when my opponents come into court with only a prayer,” Itzkow joked as he walked toward reporters after the hearing.

“The club was licensed, it was legally constituted, it remains legally operating. It may not be something that everybody likes,” Itzkow told reporters. “It may not be something that I like — by the way, I do this as a business, not as a form of entertainment — but it is something that in this country, that is allowed.”

The nuns sued the club and Stone Park in 2013, with a handful of residents and the village of Melrose Park joining the suit soon after. But the filing came more than a year after Stone Park officials approved a zoning change that allowed the club to open.

The tiny village of Stone Park, which comprises about a third of a square mile, had initially denied Itzkow’s application for a zoning change because the building would abut the sisters’ property, which straddles the border of Stone Park and Melrose Park.

State law establishes a 1,000-foot buffer around places of worship, schools and daycare centers and any adult-oriented business, lawyers for the nuns have argued, and in recent court filings they have said that the “high-friction bodily interactions for money” inside Club Allure fall under the legal definition of prostitution.

The legal battle over the club will continue, said Robert Bergthold, a lawyer for the St. Thomas More Society, which is representing the nuns in the case. Bergthold said he was heartened that the judge had acknowledged that noise, fights and alleged “prostitution” inside the club were grounds for a lawsuit — provided the plaintiffs provide more “specificity.”

“This case is far from over,” he said. “It’s heartening to us that the court said that negative secondary effects like the ones we described in our complaint are a problem and that there is a remedy.”

Sister Noemia Silva, one of several nuns who sat silent in the courtroom Tuesday, said that a drunk man stumbled into the chapel last month as the sisters were celebrating morning mass. He was drunk and claiming he remembered little about his visit to Club Allure the night before.

“We are called to live these challenging times, we are called protect our values, and we will not change them,” she told reporters.

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