Iron Bar owner follows through on legal threats, sues mayor, councilman, town

Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, center, cuts ribbon at June 2012 grand opening of the Iron Bar. The Mayor is calling for 'creative cooperation' to ease friction between residents and bar owners. Photo by Berit Ollestad
HAPPIER TIMES: Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, center, cuts ribbon at June 2012 grand opening of the Iron Bar. Owner Jimmy Cavanaugh is to his left. Photo by Berit Ollestad
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Following through on legal warnings he made last year, Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanaugh has sued his former friend, Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, under federal racketeering laws.

Bar owner James Cavanaugh at Gran Cantina hearing, Jan. 31, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Bar owner James Cavanaugh at Gran Cantina hearing, Jan. 31, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

In papers filed in U.S. District Court on April Fool’s Day, Cavanaugh reiterated claims that Dougherty has thrown roadblocks — physically and procedurally — against his downtown businesses ever since Cavanaugh rebuffed the mayor’s attempt to invest in the Iron Bar under his son’s name.

The former Essex County freeholder accuses the mayor, Councilman Stefan Armington, and the town of inflicting more than $150,000 of hurt on him by slapping curfews on one bar, placing illegal roadblocks outside two establishments, and killing a third proposed venture by denying a liquor license expansion.

Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty calls for local regulations of vape sales, April 9, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty calls for local regulations of vape sales, April 9, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Dougherty called Cavanaugh’s charges a “work of fiction.” Asked if they ever discussed a partnership, he said: “Absolutely not.”

Armington declined to comment.

In a statement, attorney Richard Trenk of Roseland-based McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, said the allegations “are wholly without merit. The Town, Mayor Dougherty and Council Member Armington have retained our firm and intend to vigorously oppose all relief sought.”

The civil suit challenges:

  • The imposition of curfews on Cavanaugh’s Revolution beer hall, adjacent to the Iron Bar. Despite their inability to cite any problems or violations at either venue, town officials ordered alcohol curfews of 11 PM Sunday through Thursday and 11:30 PM on Fridays and Saturdays at Revolution. Other bars can operate until 2 am. Several times, these curfews have been nullified by administrative law judges and the state Division of Alcohol Beverage Control.
  • Roadblocks outside Cavanaugh’s bars during prime late night hours. This police presence falsely implies dangerous activities, hinders patrons’ hailing of taxis and Uber rides, and exceeds the town’s authority because South Street is a state thoroughfare.
  • The town’s denial of a liquor license extension for Cavanaugh’s proposed Gran Cantina Mexican restaurant.

It further alleges the mayor’s “immense animus” stems partly from another Cavanaugh lawsuit, against the Morristown Parking Authority and others over a disputed alleyway.

“You —ed with the wrong people,” Dougherty told Cavanaugh, according to the new filing.

On another occasion, the mayor allegedly threw one of Cavanaugh’s favorite maxims back at him, gloating in 2017: “Remember that saying you kept telling me all those years ago, that you can’t fight city hall? Have you learned that yet?”

Council President Stefan Armington listens to public testimony, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Council President Stefan Armington listens to public testimony, Nov. 21, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Armington, who doubled as head of the town alcoholic beverage commission during a stint as council president, harbors a grudge against Cavanaugh from a prior development battle, the suit claims.

Town officials have said their actions responded to residents’ complaints about unruly late night behavior by patrons spilling from a downtown saturated with bars.

Cavanaugh seeks a jury trial, injunctions barring curfews and roadblocks, plus punitive and compensatory damages, and legal fees.

The plaintiff’s lawyer, Ryder Ulon of Schenck, Price, Smith & King in Florham Park, declined to elaborate on the case.

“I think this complaint more than adequately speaks for itself,” Ulon said on Wednesday. “We are ready to move forward with our lawsuit.”

A large crowd came to Gran Cantina hearing, Jan. 31, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
A large crowd came to Gran Cantina council hearing, Jan. 31, 2017. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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8 COMMENTS

  1. That’s right only a mayor has that authority. Proper signage and dot permission is the law. The flashing lights and multiple police cars are meant to mislead and give the appearance of a catastrophic event.

  2. James, to say you don’t serve intoxicated patrons is laughable. Perhaps you should spend a Friday and Saturday night or any busy night at your establishment. Your patrons can get there Ubers further along south st. towards community place. They can also get them on west park pl. and South Park pl. Perhaps you are only seeing dollar signs and over looking the safety of your patrons. So am I to understand that the police in their own town cannot close a state road? Even if it’s for safety and crowd noise level concerns?

  3. Adam, first we don’t serve intoxicated patrons. At the end of the night Uber’s etc would pick up customers along south st now patrons are forced to walk down to 40 park cross south to Morris st. We no longer have the few handicapped patrons coming. Our crowd is far less then the 1300 that exit mayo. All this under the guise of j walkers. For the first 5 years of our operation this did not take place only when our mayor was rebuffed did this police activity start. We employ and pay for police security on the weekends. To a close a state road there is a procedure it is ignored.

  4. Not a fan of the mayor by any means, but you couldn’t be further from the truth about the “roadblocks”. If your peak hours are from 130am-145am then you have more problems than the mayor. Have you been to your bar when it closes? Hundreds of over served patrons of your establishment pour into the street, most yelling and obnoxious. Perhaps the “roadblock” helps ensure they do not get ran over crossing the street and leave the area. South street turns into a parking lot with cars and is extremely dangerous at that time. Perhaps you should venture out to your bar at closing time one weekend and speak to your staff. I would like to see you win against the mayor, but this “complaint” isn’t going to help.

  5. I don’t understand why Morristown would want a vacant store front instead of a booming business to keep up with South Street. Denying the liquor license extension was moronic. Everybody I know in town wanted that Gran Cantina concept. Hopefully that can still happen some day.

  6. The posted picture shows a majority of supporters in favor of replacing an existing restaurant with a Mexican concept. Hundreds of thousands of taxpayer $$$ spent by the town to deny business.

  7. There has been discrimination and targeted harassment of these businesses for a long time. Good luck to you sir.

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