A dormant federal lawsuit filed by downtown bar owners challenging a fee to help pay for weekend security patrols along Jefferson Street could be coming back to life.
Five bars came together to file the lawsuit in January 2012, but little has happened since then, in part because their attorney, Daniel J. Stanford, was facing federal charges for his role in a synthetic marijuana operation.
A jury convicted Stanford last year on drug and money laundering charges, and he was sentenced in January to 10 years and one month in prison.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty summoned the bar owners to court, advising them the lawsuit against city-parish government might be thrown out for lack of activity.
The judge dismissed the claims of three bars that sent no representatives Thursday, including two bars that are now closed.
But the case still has legs because the owners of Nite Town and Karma, which also has closed since the lawsuit was filed two years ago, told the judge they plan to move forward with the lawsuit.
Doherty gave them two months to find new attorneys.
“The case has lingered from day one,” said George Armbruster III, who represents city-parish government in the dispute.
Nite Town owner George Favaloro told the judge he had been in the dark about the status of the lawsuit.
“We didn’t know anything about this case anymore,” he said.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council has suspended the security fee pending a decision in the lawsuit, and taxpayers have been footing the police overtime bill for the special downtown patrols, which until this year was about $500,000 annually.
The downtown bar owners argue the security fee is an unconstitutional tax imposed without an election.
The lawsuit seeks to void the fee and to recoup money bar owners paid before city-parish government suspended it.
The City-Parish Council approved the security fee in 2009 to force bars to share in the increasing expense of the special police details that keep watch over the thick weekend crowds along Jefferson Street.
The fee ranged from $150 to $5,000 a month per bar, depending on capacity.
Several bar owners stopped paying the fee in 2011, and the lawsuit was filed a few weeks after city-parish officials moved to suspend the liquor licenses of bars that were refusing to pay.
Finding the money for downtown security continues to be an issue, and the council last year cut the annual budget for the special downtown patrols from $456,500 to $245,500.
Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft said this month that he has trimmed staffing and hours for the downtown patrols but might have to end the special detail because there is not enough money to fund it through the end of the year.