Odell's is told to stay closed pending hearing


A Baltimore circuit judge yesterday granted a city request to dismiss a court order that had allowed the controversial Odell's nightclub to operate until an August zoning decision forced it to close.

The judge's action clears the way for the city's nuisance suit against the troubled North Avenue nightspot to go to trial.

And after lawyers for 19-21 Inc., Odell's corporate owner, told the judge that the nightspot would reopen tonight -- based on its arguments that it had a valid permit to operate -- Judge Ellen L. Hollander ordered the establishment closed until at least Tuesday.

After a rather spirited exchange with Ira C. Cooke, one of Odell's lawyers, over the question of whether the club could reopen, Judge Hollander ensured that the nightspot would remain closed until she could hold a hearing Tuesday on the temporary injunction.

The judge initially asked Mr. Cooke to voluntarily keep the club closed until a hearing could be scheduled on the city's request for an injunction against reopening. She then told him that she would order the club closed if the owners did not voluntarily comply.

"How can you enjoin us without a hearing?" Mr. Cooke asked, after he suggested that the judge was practicing "judicial activism."

"Because I'm going to -- and if I'm wrong, I'm sure you'll tell me," Judge Hollander shot back.

"Can't get no justice in this city," muttered Milton Tillman, president of 19-21 Inc., as Judge Hollander issued her order at the end of the 2 1/2 -hour hearing.

Mr. Tillman, who is awaiting a federal trial on charges of attempting bribery to win favor in a zoning case involving Odell's, said he would reopen if so allowed. "We need to pay some bills. They're ready to shut off the electricity," Mr. Tillman said. Mr. Cooke and Howard L. Alderman Jr., lawyers for Odell's, argued that the club could reopen -- despite the fact that the city revoked its permit to operate as a private club in August 1991, and then denied two later requests to operate as a private club and as a dance hall.

The lawyers contended that the city's 1991 revocation of the April 27, 1990, permit for the operation of the North Avenue establishment as a private club did not mean that an earlier permit to operate as nightclub was invalid. The nightclub permit was issued Nov. 22, 1989.

Assistant City Solicitor Sandra R. Gutman said that the April 1990 permit superseded the earlier nightclub permit and that Odell's had no permit at all to operate.

Judge Hollander did not rule on the merits of the case, but agreed to push for an "immediate" court date to resolve the two-year legal tangle.

Since last year, Odell's has been operating without a zoning permit but has stayed open under court-approved agreements with city officials that imposed conditions on the club's operation until that zoning case was resolved.

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