Local bars fight ban in first court appearance

Taking a step forward in their attempt to fight the citywide smoking ban, Stub & Herbs owner Sue Jeffers and a group of local bar and club owners had their first day in Hennepin County District Court on Tuesday.

Jeffers and her fellow plaintiffs filed suit with the county March 10, asking the court to overturn the ordinances banning smoking in public places because they said the bans conflict with state law. They also filed a motion requesting a judge issue a temporary restraining order to keep local government from enforcing the bans until a decision is made in the lawsuit.

At today’s hearing, District Judge John McShane heard arguments from both sides’ lawyers to determine whether to issue the temporary restraining order. Hennepin County and the cities of Minneapolis and Bloomington, Minn., were named as defendants in the suit.

“I’m a nonsmoker, and to us, this isn’t about smoking,” said Ryan Pacyga, attorney for the plaintiffs. “The issue is, when has government gone too far in regulating people’s property?”

The smoking bans for all three areas will go into effect March 31, if the restraining order is not granted.

Pacyga said he was surprised at how many concerns the judge had with the case but expected a ruling within a matter of days.

McShane said he was concerned with the plaintiffs’ interpretation of the Clean Indoor Air Act of 1975, which they

argued specifically exempts bars and denies government this type of authority over private property. He also questioned whether bars actually lose money when smoking bans are imposed.

Jeffers said the affidavits her attorney submitted clearly show bars in Duluth, Minn., losing money during the smoking ban and gaining it back when the ban was repealed after a citywide referendum.

A similar referendum, which would go on the November ballot, could be tried here once all legal avenues have been exhausted, Pacyga said.

In the meantime, Jeffers said, she has raised $20,000 from local bar owners toward a goal of $100,000 to help pay for legal proceedings she anticipates might take her to the Minnesota Supreme Court.