TownHall owner Bobby George 9 is seeking a civil protection order against two With Peace We Protest members who have demonstrated in recent weeks and months at his restaurants, asking for a court order that would prevent them from coming within 500 feet of his establishments. (* See update at the bottom of the story.)
The first court hearing in the case, which is assigned to Judge Joan Synenberg, was held yesterday before a magistrate and didn't conclude before the end of the business day. A continuation of the hearing has not yet been scheduled.
"All I can say on the record is I would do whatever I have to within the law to protect my employees and family from this very bad person," George told Scene. Asked if the civil suit, which because it seeks a protection order is not listed publicly on the court's docket, targeted two people, George responded, "I don't know much about the other person."
"[The one] threatened the life of an employee, he assaulted a female employee, and has a history of assaulting females," George alleged to Scene. Asked if a police report was filed for the assault, George said yes but declined to discuss the case further.
The defendants are represented by Pete Pattakos, who also represents Scene in Bobby George's lawsuit against this paper. (One of those defendants has previously been identified as a witness in Scene's ongoing litigation with George.)
Pattakos categorically denied George's allegations and laid out further thoughts on the case in a Facebook post this morning
"As if filing a frivolous lawsuit against the local alt-weekly (our client Cleveland Scene) weren’t enough, Bobby George has now apparently put his cousin up to suing for civil protection orders against members of an organization called With Peace We Protest, who have organized demonstrations outside of his restaurants against what they believe to be George’s racist, sexist, unsafe, and otherwise abusive business practices. George and his co-conspirators have falsely accused these protesters of 'menacing by stalking.'"
In proceedings, "Mr. George's cousin—who has worked for him since 2008—apparently lied under oath about these protesters at a hearing held yesterday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas court. She claimed that she fears for her safety as a result of things that were said to her at these protests, and that she has suffered permanent hearing loss due to the protesters’ use of megaphones. She made these claims while acknowledging that there were numerous police officers on duty at these protests, who did not see any conduct that required their intervention, despite her repeated complaints to them. Also, none of the many other folks in attendance at these protests have reported any injury as a result of the protesters’ megaphones, and this alleged victim had no trouble hearing in court yesterday, where she admitted she was not wearing a hearing aid, and that she was using yoga and other “natural remedies” to treat the alleged injuries." the statement continued.
"While the underlying dispute might seem trivial to some, a businessman leveraging his wealth in the courts, basically to do P.R., by intimidating witnesses and demonstrators to silence press coverage, lawful protests, and other First-Amendment-protected activity, while trying to tar young protesters with false and racially tinged criminal charges, is a direct and severe threat to democracy itself. When people talk about overturning Citizens United and restoring protections against the corrupting influence of money on our political system, incidents like this show exactly why. Mr. George, his cousin, and his attorneys should be deeply ashamed."
Protests at TownHall have been accompanied by police presence, including top Cleveland police department officials at times, along with bike racks and the police helicopter on at least on occasion. There have been no arrests during the demonstrations.
George's cousin is represented by Chris Congeni and Kevin Spellacy, both of whom also represent the TownHall owner in his suit against Scene.
(Updated 8/5/2020: Mr. George's attorneys now have complained to Pattakos that Bobby George did not file for the protection order himself, but that his cousin did instead. Notably, Bobby responded to our request for comment with quotes indicating he was part of the suit. He is also named in the CPO and was present at the court hearing. This story has been edited to reflect the updated statement by the Pattakos law firm.)