By Scott Smith Kokomo Tribune
---- — Two weeks ago, Howard Superior Court Judge William Menges sounded optimistic he’d rule on a contentious case involving a local strip club within a state-imposed time limit.
But last week, with time running out, Menges asked the Indiana Supreme Court for an extension, frustrating city officials who wanted Menges to rule on the case months ago.
“I’m not sure why this would take so long,” Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said Tuesday.
Menges, appointed as special judge to hear the case, said several pressing personnel issues within the county’s adult probation and drug/alcohol programs required his attention last week, and pushed him up against the deadline.
The owners of the Tease strip club, 107 E. Markland Ave., are continuing to operate the club as an adult business, despite a cease-and-desist request from the Kokomo Plan Commission.
Plan commission director Greg Sheline notified the club owners they were operating in violation of zoning laws, alleging they’d expanded the club without proper permits.
The Kokomo Board of Zoning Appeals upheld Sheline’s notice of violation Dec. 13, and the club owners then filed a court appeal. That appeal is pending.
Also pending is the city’s request for an injunction. City officials asked Menges to bar the owners from offering topless dancing while the appeal is pending. It now appears unlikely Menges will issue any kind of an injunction prior to ruling on the appeal.
Meanwhile, club owners Brett Morrow and Dustin Ogle have ignored the city’s request to stop offering adult entertainment while the matter is pending.
“I don’t feel there’s a lawful reason to preclude us from doing what we’ve been doing the whole time,” Brian Oaks, the attorney representing Ogle and Morrow, said earlier this year.
According to Indiana trial rules, a judge has 90 days to rule once all of the testimony and filings have been received and the matter has been taken under advisement. If a judge either doesn’t rule within that time period or doesn’t ask for an extension, the Indiana Supreme Court can appoint another judge to decide the issue.
Attorneys from both sides submitted written materials supporting their respective arguments Aug. 6, meaning Menges should have ruled by Nov. 4.
Oaks said he received notice Nov. 8 that Menges had filed for an extension.
“Honestly, I can’t recall a time [when a judge has needed an extension], but this is not the run-of-the-mill type of a case that should be decided in a week,” Oaks said.
Representatives from the Indiana Supreme Court didn’t respond to a request for information this week. As of Thursday, Menges had received no word on his extension request.
If the extension is granted, Menges could have until January to rule on the case, although Menges said Thursday he intends to have a ruling much sooner.
Menges said the appointment of Howard County Chief Adult Probation Officer Don Travis to the position of deputy director of Indiana’s Division of Children’s Services created both personnel and budget issues that had to be addressed.
“Unfortunately, about 60 percent of the probationers in Howard County come from Superior 1, so I was in the middle of all of this,” Menges said.
Dustin DeLong was promoted from the drug and alcohol program to Travis’ post, but a retirement in DeLong’s old department meant several employees are now in new positions, Menges said. He said the county will actually be spending less on the departments after the changes.
Menges said that since he’s filed for an extension, he won’t be able to issue the ruling until the Supreme Court addresses the extension request. He said he anticipates that happening next week, but cautioned that the Supreme Court has no time limit for taking action.