City Tries New Strategy in its Crackdown on The Lava Lounge
Thursday, October 25, 2012 • 2:40pm
PATERSON, NJ – City officials say The Lava Lounge has been operating as a rogue business.
Despite getting hit with more than $40,000 in fines for fire, health and building code violations, the nightclub on Montclair Avenue has continued to flout the law, officials said. In fact, officials say, the club’s owners post electronic advertisements that promote some of the very activities for which the business has been cited, such as hookah smoking and music.
Frustrated by the lack of impact of previous enforcement efforts, the city this week used a new tactic. The law department filed a civil complaint seeking a Superior Court order against the club, one that would put its owner in contempt of court, and in danger of jail time, if the violations continued.
One of the main issues the city emphasized was the indoor hookah smoking at the crowded club. Paterson attorney Ben-David Seligman used four words to sum up the potential for tragedy: “Coals, couches and crowds.’’
During a preliminary hearing on Thursday afternoon, Superior Court Judge Mary McVeigh put Lava Lounger owner, Mahmoud Hammad, on notice. She told Hammad his business had shown “blatant disregard” for the “public health, safety and well-being.’’
A fire, the judge told Hammad, would not only jeopardize his patrons but the surrounding neighborhood. “There are all houses in that area, houses and wooden buildings,’’ McVeigh said.
The judge told Hammad that if there were any violations at the Lava Lounge before the next court hearing on November 16, he would be in contempt of court and face possible jail time. “I’ve been getting used to going back and forth to jail already,’’ responded Hammad, who was arrested during at least one of the city’s raids at Lava Lounge.
Hammad, whose other partner bailed out of the business back in May, argued that the city has been unfairly targeting his club. He told the judge that he has video camera footage refuting the city’s charges against his businesses. But he also said that the city’s enforcement efforts have worn him down.
“I’m on the verge of closing the place down without the city doing it for me,’’ he said.
Hammad said that 6th Ward Councilman Andre Sayegh has a vendetta against him. Sayegh says he has been merely representing his constituents whose lives have been disrupted by the rowdy late-night crowds and other problems the Lava Lounge has brought to their South Paterson neighborhood.
Sayegh described the club’s online advertisements as evidence of Hammad’s “in your face, catch me if you can” attitude about following the law.