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Boat Club suits held up again

Sheila Flynn | Wednesday, April 21, 2004

More than a year after Boat Club filed lawsuits against underage patrons for misrepresenting themselves, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students involved in the suits have been offered a settlement and a chance to end the prolonged affair – a chance, students said, that is bittersweet.”I never wanted to let them win, nor do my parents,” said sophomore Jeanne Etchart, one of the Notre Dame students being sued. “But I’m very ready to let the whole thing be over. It’s almost just worth it to pay it [the settlement] and be done with it.”The Boat Club, or Millennium Club, Inc., filed lawsuits last April against students cited in the Jan. 23, 2003 raid. Demanding $3,000 from each student, the plaintiff, represented by attorney Mitchell Heppenheimer, claimed the minors were responsible for damages the tavern could suffer as a result of the raid. Forty of those suits were dismissed in August, and the remaining 150 suits have been continually postponed. Boat Club, however, appealed the dismissals, and the cases will proceed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.”On May 7, there is a scheduled oral argument, which is a proceeding where you go in front of the three-judge panel, which will decide your case,” said attorney Ed Sullivan, who represents approximately 40 students.If Boat Club wins the appeal, the individual cases will be sent back to small claims court, where the defendants will face the original complaints. If the students win the appeal, the entire process could end. However, whichever party loses in the court of appeals has yet another outlet which could further prolong the ordeal; the losing party can seek a transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court, which has never heard such a case. The Supreme Court has the option of accepting or denying the request. In the event that the case does proceed that far, however, students will most likely be faced with increased legal fees. And the financial factor, students said, is prompting them to seriously consider agreeing to the settlement.”This, overall, has been very expensive,” Etchart said, citing fees paid to Notre Dame’s Office of Resident Life, the State of Indiana and legal counsel.”Among my friends who I’ve talked to, I think everyone else is just going to do the $300.”Other students, however, said they are confident Boat Club will lose the appeal, and therefore they are not yet agreeing to the settlement.”I’m not going to settle, because I know that it probably won’t pass the appeal,” said sophomore Patricia Bueso. Junior Tori Peppler is still undecided about her course of action but also voiced doubts about Boat Club’s chance for success in the court of appeals. She said her lawyer “didn’t think they had an argument that would make it to the supreme court.” The chance that the case would go that far, however, was the factor leaving her indecisive Peppler said.”Then we’re going to have to reevaluate our fees to the attorney, which may mean spending more money,” she said. “It can be over $300 at that point.”Sophomore Daniel Pearson, though faced with the same considerations, said he was simply “sick and tired” of the process.”I’m planning on taking the settlement,” Pearson said. “I got an e-mail discussing it and saying that there was a good chance that we’d win, but even still, it’d be kind of nice to just be through with it.”