Camden business curfew trial begins

Will the third time be a charm for Camden in its quest to shut down businesses early for the sake of public safety?

Camden County Superior Court Judge Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina began listening to testimony Monday in the Camden business curfew case, the third one in 15 years.

The curfew ordinance, intended to help curb crime, was enacted on Sept. 19, 2011. It requires businesses in residential zones or within 200 feet of a residential zone to close between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays and between midnight and 6 a.m. on weekends. The curfew does not apply to pharmacies or businesses holding liquor licenses or selling fuel.

City activist Frank Fulbrook, along with operators of some late-night businesses, filed a lawsuit challenging the curfew shortly after it was enacted (though it was never implemented). The lawsuit was eventually combined with another one filed by 7-Eleven Inc., which has two stores in Camden.

Similar curfew measures adopted in 1998 and 2006 were tossed out after successful court challenges.

Camden Mayor Dana L. Redd attempted to enforce the curfew last fall but Fernandez-Vina said there was not sufficient urgency to enforce the curfew before a trial and granted an injunction that prohibits police from enforcing the ordinance.

Proponents of the law have said that closing late-night and 24-hour businesses would reduce loitering and could lead to a reduction in drug offenses and quality-of-life crimes.
Critics have said it would hurt the business’ profits and could force owners to reduce their staff or shut down.

After the first day of trial, Fulbrook said it was hard to gauge which side was winning.

The three small businesses that are listed as co-plaintiffs — Broadway Food Court, Crown Fried Chicken, and Great Wall Chinese Restaurant — did not show up to court Monday, Fulbrook said.
“We had to go get them,” Fulbrook said, adding that he wasn’t sure if the business owners forgot or were embarrassed to testify in English since most have foreign accents.

Fulbrook said he was the first to testify and was on the stand for a couple of hours. The court session ended in the middle of testimony by the plaintiffs’ expert witness, associate professor of sociology at Rutgers-Camden Jon’a F. Meyers. She will be back on the stand later this week.

The trial is to resume Wednesday and is expected to last into next week.

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