- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

A Prince George’s County judge yesterday postponed further action on county efforts to close nine nightclubs, saying he would let business owners and officials try to reach an agreement on their own.

Six of the clubs will remain open indefinitely, and owners will “work with the police department to develop security plans for each” rather than close their doors permanently, said John Erzen, spokesman for county Executive Jack B. Johnson.

“The hearing [yesterday] was simply to get a continuation on the injunction hearing so the county can sit down with officials from the clubs,” Mr. Erzen said.

County officials shuttered nine businesses over the weekend, saying they were responsible for a large number of police calls for violent crimes.

But Circuit Judge Thomas P. Smith granted an injunction to six of the businesses, ruling that the county was not specific enough in its order to close them and did not tell the owners what they could do to become safe.

Mr. Erzen said the county is ready to work with the businesses to reduce crime.

“It’s all about public safety for citizens and residents, and that’s what we’re trying to ensure here,” he said.

He praised the businesses for “stepping up and realizing” the severity of the issue.

His comments reflected a softening of the county’s stance from last week. Mr. Johnson, a Democrat, said at a press conference Friday that “it’s our intent that [the clubs] be closed forever.”

Mr. Johnson said the county has the authority to shutter the clubs with a county law that went into effect in September. The law allows authorities to close a business that “presents an imminent danger and threat to the health, safety and welfare of the public.”

Police counted more than 1,000 calls for service combined at three Hyattsville clubs. Police Chief Melvin C. High said about 20 to 30 officers are assigned to one of the clubs on an average night, which “adversely affects our ability to police the rest of the county.”

The businesses that will be allowed to continue operating are the Crossroads Entertainment Complex in Bladensburg, LePearl in Capitol Heights, Knights of Columbus in Forestville, and Millennium, Cuzco Restaurant and Tick Tock Restaurant and Bar in Hyattsville, according to the county executive’s office.

Lawrence Holzman, an attorney representing LePearl, called the law well-intentioned but “unconstitutional and arbitrary.”

“We think the way that it was carried out was not thought through or undertaken in a sensible way,” he said.

Mr. Holzman also disputed the county’s designation of the nine businesses as “clubs.” About 80 percent of LePearl’s business comes from catering, and the business hosted anniversaries, a sorority breakfast and church services over the weekend, he said.

The three remaining establishments — CFE in Forestville, Classics III Supper Club in Camp Springs and Tradewinds in Clinton — were not part of the injunction and remained closed, although Classics is in negotiations with the county and may reopen soon, Mr. Erzen said.

The case likely will return to court sometime in the summer to check on the progress of the compromise, he said.

“It’s going to take a few months to develop and implement these plans,” he said.

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