MILWAUKEE (CN) - Attorneys will begin the process Friday of combing through emails that they say show a scheme to shutter minority-owned bars in Racine, Wis.
The advancement in discovery comes in a year-long legal battle by former Racine bar owners who claim that the city targeted them unfairly in an effort to "clean up" downtown. They say Mayor John Dickert accepted bribes and illegal contributions during the election to encourage these actions.
"Simple racism" drives the effort, with city officials equating fewer people of color with a "cleaned-up" downtown, the bar owners say.
"Today, there are no minority-owned bars that cater to minority clientele in the downtown area," the latest version of the complaint states.
Such bars have allegedly been replaced by "hip-hop nights" at bars owned by members of the Racine City Tavern League, nearly all of whom are white.
The minority-owned bars, led by Park 6 Bar's Thomas Holmes, say the preliminary results of discovery, electronically stored information from June 2009 to the present, has been "staggering."
A search of the city-employee emails being produced has thousands of hits for words like "nigger," "coon" and "kickback," according to a brief from the bar owners.
That brief also quotes testimony from a witness who allegedly heard Dickert say, "It is time for these niggers to go back to Waukegan."
The parties met in court Thursday over the push to have Racine produce records from January 2006 to May 2009, as well, with the city footing the bill.
U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller said Thursday that for now the bar owners should focus on reviewing the current production, still being downloaded since Monday.
Attorneys expect the download to finish at 4:30 a.m. Friday.
Stadtmueller said he does not have enough information to ascertain the relevancy of Racine's claims that obtaining older files will be too costly, difficult and possibly unnecessary.
"It may not have a single thing to do with the price of tea in China or the issues in this case," he told the court. "That doesn't mean it's not discoverable."
Michael Hart, an attorney for the plaintiff bar owners, told the court: "We don't know whether there are smoking guns in these documents."
In its brief opposing further production, Racine said called the bluster over the email-search hits a "gross mischaracterization."
The 436 hits for "nigger," for example, were mostly from police and public safety documents detailing a third party's use of the word, and several were in spam emails, according to the brief. The distribution was allegedly similar for the term "wetback."
For "oriental," most hits stemmed from references to landmarks such as "The Oriental Theater," according to Racine's opposition brief.
As for the witness, who the municipal defendants identify as Penny Sharp, they say she has long opposed Dickert politically. Further, the other two people she claims heard the alleged statement have contradicted her, Racine says.
"As shown herein, the plaintiffs' motion appears to be nothing more than a transparent attempt to improperly use the judicial process as a conduit to smear Mayor Dickert's reelection campaign," the opposition brief states.
In court, attorney Michael Cohen asked the court to "let [the plaintiffs] see what we've provided" before granting an expensive and difficult document-retrieval request.
Stadtmueller said he would accept further submissions but did not set a hearing date to decide on the motion. He repeatedly suggested hiring an outside expert to evaluate the data and its accessibility.
The judge and the attorneys expressed concerns about drawing the case out further, considering the trial is set to start Sept. 21, 2015.
"The pedal has got to be put to the metal" on discovering relevant, meaningful evidence, Stadtmueller told the court.
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