Phase 54 case delayed after judge recuses self - East Valley Tribune: Chandler

Phase 54 case delayed after judge recuses self

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Posted: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 3:14 pm

The case against a Chandler nightclub took a twist Wednesday after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Rea recused himself from continuing with the case because of a conflict of interest.

Rea’s bailiff is friends with the owner of Outback Steakhouse, one of the restaurants suing the Phase 54 club off Interstate 10 and Ray Road. Outback has been joined by Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Charleston’s, neighboring restaurants, in asking the court to close the club. The lawsuit states concerns of inadequate parking and a night club in the area.

The case has now been assigned to Judge J. Richard Gama. The new date and time for the next hearing is 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Central Court Building, 201 W. Jefferson St., Phoenix.

The lawsuit was filed two weeks before the grand opening. However, Rea allowed the club to open as planned on May 7.

“I just want to do concerts,” said club owner Jon Harris. “We’ve been open now for three weekends, and we haven’t had any problems.”

The 26,100-square foot, two-story club, has a 4,000-square foot outdoor patio, a 5-foot tall large stage with full lighting and sound for bands and dancers to perform in a concert atmosphere. A resident DJ plays top 40 music at the club, which has 50 employees.

Phase 54, which is open from 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday, also features a large wine cellar.

Concerns of racial comments about club patrons from an Outback manager brought out the Rev. Jarrett Maupin, a local civil rights leader and former Phoenix school board member.

Maupin had originally called for picketing, protests and boycotts of the restaurants, but is holding off until he meets with Chandler officials.

He is planning to address his concerns during a meeting with Leah Powell, Chandler’s community development and diversity manager, and Ed Clavell, chair of the Human Relations Commission.

However, Powell said she is unsure when a meeting will occur because the city attorney’s office is “taking a look at the request because of the legal aspects” of the case.

“We are waiting for direction,” said Powell, who couldn’t comment further about the case.

Maupin also plans to ask Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard to investigate.

“This is a huge consumer issue,” Maupin said. “Someone has to do something. We want them to investigate. We want someone to take responsibility for their racial remarks.”

Harris said he has encouraged the restaurant managers and their lawyers to visit the club and see what it’s all about.

“I want them to see the melting pot and ages of patrons,” Harris said. “So many difficulties can be handled with communication. I don’t see what a beautiful venue can do to hurt their businesses.”

Harris said he was “shocked” to hear about the lawsuit. There were no objections at public hearings during the city permit acquisition process and five-month construction period where the club’s structure, which formerly housed a furniture store, was completely gutted at a cost of more than $1 million, Harris said.

Jeff Kurtz, a Chandler city assistant planning director, has been subpoenaed in the case.

Kurtz told the Tribune the parking lot has adequate parking for the surrounding businesses.

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