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Support students, not Boat Club

Observer Editorial | Thursday, October 2, 2003

The Boat Club is back. After several months of sharply decreased attendance, students are again turning the bar into a popular weekend hangout.

However, that same bar has filed $600,000 worth of lawsuits against fellow students, claiming it didn’t know that the large majority of its patrons were underage.

As a result of the 200 students cited for underage drinking in the police raid on the South Bend bar last January, the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission offered two options to the bar, that are both financially harmful to the bar’s owners: Either pay a fine and sell its liquor license to a new owner or close altogether.

In an attempt to recoup some of the losses the bar faces from ATC prosecution, The Boat Club filed suit against the 200 underage patrons cited in the Jan. 24 raid, requesting $300 per case.

For the students involved in these lawsuits, the legal process has been long, frustrating, expensive and confusing.

Students could opt to pay a South Bend attorney $500 to help them navigate through the court system or attempt to sort through the lawsuits by themselves if they could not afford attorney fees.

In addition, students who thought the lawsuit would be resolved within a few months discovered they were mistaken. After a South Bend judge dismissed about 40 suits, citing a lack of legal precedent for such litigation, The Boat Club choose to appeal those suits and attempted to force all other students to agree to continuances until April 2004, a delay of an additional seven months.

Because of its decision to appeal some of the lawsuits, The Boat Club has retained a second attorney to handle the appeals and must pay expensive court costs to file the suits in the Indiana Court of Appeals. The bar has already invested a significant amount of money in these lawsuits, paying $73 of court costs for each case plus attorney fees for South Bend lawyer Mitch Heppenheimer since last spring.

Because of increased student support this semester, the bar will more readily be able to afford these legal fees and could consider the possibility of paying for further appeals.

Students must show support for those involved in the lawsuits by not going to The Boat Club. Those cited in the raid have already paid a price – through fines and community service – and shouldn’t be subject to further legal action.

Now, student support of The Boat Club amounts to support for the lawsuits against fellow Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students. By financially backing the bar, patrons make it possible for The Boat Club to pay for the legal fees and attorney costs necessary to drag out and appeal the lawsuits. Finding another place to party will send a clear message that suing students isn’t an acceptable way to recover from the bust.