Camden business curfew trial ends

After more than two weeks of testimony from business owners and crime experts, the Camden business curfew trial concluded Wednesday.

A decision, though, could take another month.

Final briefs from each side are due to presiding Camden County Superior Court Judge Faustino J. Fernandez-Vina on March 6. Fernandez-Vina will make a decision sometime after that, his secretary said.

The trial is a legal fight between the city and activist Frank Fulbrook, a few late-night eateries and 7-Eleven over the city’s ordinance to shut down businesses early.

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.

“All (the ordinance) seeks to do is that the residents’ right to the quiet enjoyment of their property is won’t be disturbed,” said attorney John Eastlack, who was contracted to represent the city.

During the trial Fulbrook said the business curfew went “completely against” the city’s master plan, which calls for a vibrant city setting. (Some of his other curfew arguments may be read here.)

Neither side has expressed particular confidence but Fulbrook has already vowed to appeal if his side loses.