Paxton B&B owners seek relief from penalties over refusal of gay couple

Paxton B&B owners seek relief from penalties over refusal of gay couple

SPRINGFIELD — A Christian bed-and-breakfast west of Paxton that is facing sanctions from the state for discriminating against a same-sex couple six years ago is turning to the courts in hope of avoiding $80,000 in penalties.

Chicago attorney Jason Craddock filed a motion contesting an appellate court order that dismissed the TimberCreek Bed-and-Breakfast's appeal of those penalties. It was submitted on behalf of B&B co-owner Jim Walder.

Walder faces penalties that include his company paying $30,000 to Todd and Mark Wathen for their emotional distress and the B&B paying their attorneys $50,000 in fees.

On July 20, the Fourth District of the Illinois Appellate Court entered an order directing the Wathens' attorneys to respond to Craddock's motion within seven days.

Chicago attorney Robert Middleton of Schiff Hardin LLP did so on July 26. Middleton is joined in representing the Wathens by Chicago attorney Betty Tsamis and John Knight and Harvey Grossman, both of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

"I am pleased that the court is taking the motion seriously enough to require a response from the other side, and I am hopeful that the court will grant our motion, so that this important matter can be decided on its merits, as now even the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a similar case involving the same issues as this one," Craddock said.

On May 30, the appellate court entered an order dismissing Craddock's appeal, which had been filed last December. In Craddock's appeal with the appellate court, he had asked the court to review the "recommended order and decision" that Michael R. Robinson, an administrative law judge appointed by the Illinois Human Rights Commission, entered in 2015 against Walder's B&B.

Sent to wrong address

Craddock's most recent motion asks the court to vacate the case's dismissal. Craddock argues that the motion for dismissal — which was filed by the Wathens' attorneys on May 4 — was mailed to him at an incorrect address, one he has not used in four years.

As a result, Craddock said, he did not receive the motion until May 22, delaying his response to that motion until May 27. The court subsequently granted the Wathens' motion without receiving or considering Craddock's response, he said.

In his latest court filing, Craddock said he believes it is "manifestly unfair and prejudicial to grant such a severe sanction which completely avoids addressing the merits of what is now a critically disputed matter, due to something that was completely the fault of the (Wathens' attorneys)."

Further, Craddock said, the appellate court should consider that the U.S. Supreme Court recently granted a judicial review of a case that "presents almost an identical question as (this) case."

In the other case — Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission — the Colorado Court of Appeals found that a bakery violated that state's public accommodations law when it refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, as the court deemed the bakery's religious objection to be discrimination against the potential customers' sexual orientation.

The Colorado appeals court also found that a cease-and-desist order from the state's civil rights commission violated the state's constitution, saying that forcing the bakery to sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples, if it wished to serve heterosexual couples in the same manner, "was not sufficiently expressive."

"The court opined that designing and selling wedding cakes to all customers, free of discrimination, does not convey a message that the bakery celebrated same-sex weddings," Craddock said. "The court also found that the order did not violate the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.

"It is necessary for the (Fourth District of the Illinois Appellate Court) to consider this (Colorado) case on its merits in light of the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court will be resolving conflicting rulings and setting a course for the very crucial interests at stake in this matter. In this case, virtually identical constitutional issues have been raised."

Wathens' attorneys respond

In their response, the Wathens' attorneys argue that the appellate court made the correct decision in dismissing the appeal — and should not reconsider it.

Middleton acknowledged that the motion to dismiss was "inadvertently" sent to a previous address for Craddock.

"However, appellant suffered no prejudice as a result of receiving the appellees' motion to dismiss ... as evidenced by appellant's failure to provide any justification for reversing the dismissal in either its motion to reconsider or its response to the Wathens' motion to dismiss," Middleton's response said.

"The Wathens' argument for dismissal was based on a series of failures to comply with deadlines and rules violations which appellant fails to address in either its motion to reconsider or its response to the Wathens' motion to dismiss. It bases its arguments for reversal on the fact that it did not receive the Wathens' motion to dismiss until May 22.

"After receiving the motion to dismiss, appellant waited two additional days — until May 24, 2017, the deadline to file its brief — to mail both a response to the motion to dismiss and a motion for yet an additional extension of time to file (a) brief.

"Appellant never filed (the) brief, even after failing to file on the May 24, 2017, extended deadline it obtained from the court. ... Appellant's motion to reconsider provides no new information or basis to avoid dismissal that was not before the court at the time it dismissed the appeal, other than the delay in receiving the Wathens' motion to dismiss. ... That delay is insufficient basis for reversing the court's dismissal of the appeal."

Will Brumleve is editor of the Ford County Record, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit fordcountyrecord.com.

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CallSaul wrote on August 01, 2017 at 5:08 pm

No matter how deeply held their bigotry is, business owners serving the public can't discriminate based on that bigotry.

And it doesn't matter if the bigotry is based on their religion. Bigotry is bigotry and discrimination is discrimination and both come with consequences...