RIVER NORTH — In an effort to fight a city-forced shutdown, the embattled River North nightclub Bottled Blonde is trying to remove a judge who accused one of its owners of faking a heart attack to prolong the proceedings, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.
Bottled Blonde has been fighting two separate disciplinary charges from the city that cover a litany of accusations, including that the establishment was violating its liquor license by operating primarily as a bar and not as a restaurant.
In the same month that the first charges were brought — May 2017 — the bar also faced accusations that a new dress code was racist and exclusionary.
The new lawsuit brought by Bottled Blonde alleges that municipal administrative law Judge Khaled J. Elkhatib — who is overseeing the second round of hearings against the business — accused Bottled Blonde operating partner Marcus Cook of faking a heart attack and faking a doctor’s note to prolong the hearing process.
Cook is considered Bottled Blonde’s primary witness and “corporate designee” in the case, the suit claims. At an Aug. 21 hearing, a lawyer for Bottled Blonde asked Judge Elkhatib to delay the hearing while Cook recovered from an “emergency cardiac event” he suffered a week earlier, according to the lawsuit.
The case had already been delayed for three weeks to accommodate the judge’s summer vacation, the suit says.
Elkhatib refused the lawyers’ request and accused them of “putting forth a fake heart attack” supported by a note from a “fake doctor,” the lawsuit alleges.
“Although [Judge] Elkhatib had not heard any testimony from Cook, or his physician, [Judge] Elkhatib had clearly prejudged the matter and determined that Cook was lying about his health issues…,” the lawsuit reads.
The suit also accuses Elkhatib of threatening lawyers for Bottled Blonde with removal from the courtroom by Chicago Police officers. Neither Cook nor Elkhatib immediately replied to comment for this story.
The River North hotspot’s liquor license was actually revoked in November 2017, after a hearing process that was delayed by Bottled Blonde’s 72-year-old attorney being arrested on drug charges. The restaurant appealed the decision and was allowed to stay open for the time being.
In December 2017, the restaurant sued the city, saying the arrest of its counsel hampered its defense, and that the city didn’t properly issue a revised plan of operation for the business. That case is still open.
Now, however, the business is fighting a second disciplinary action from the city that was brought in January 2018.
Lawyers for Bottled Blonde say in the lawsuit that a second round of disciplinary charges was brought as a means of more quickly shutting down the business. In hearings over these charges, the lawyers say city officials are not allowing the business due process and that the presiding judge has a bias against the establishment.
After the judge accused Bottled Blonde’s owner of faking a medical emergency, the business’ lawyers requested that Elkhatib be removed from the case, a motion that the judge denied.
When the counsel objected to the denial, Elkhatib “threatened, intimated and harassed” the lawyers by threatening to have them removed from the courtroom by officers present for the hearing, the lawsuit alleges.
At a hearing on Sept. 17, the lawyers again asked that the judge be substituted, but Elkhatib declined, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit filed Monday is now seeking a Cook County circuit judge to remove Elkhatib from the case.
Aside from Elkhatib, the suit names a number of city officials as defendents, including: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Patricia Jackowiak, chief administrative law judge for the city; Shannon Trotter, commissioner of the Local Liquor Control Commission, Rosa Escareno, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.