Lawyers return to court in Sunset Lounge lawsuit

Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 9:45 PM EST
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Attorneys representing West Palm Beach asked Judge Carolyn Bell to dismiss Vita Lounge LLC’s lawsuit against the city Friday, arguing they failed to show any evidence of fraud, misconduct by the city’s procurement official or proof that he acted in bad faith when he disqualified Vita Lounge LLC.

But an attorney representing Vita Lounge LLC told the court that's the not the case and argued the city went beyond its bounds disqualifying Vita Lounge and took away the award and the Community Redevelopment Agency's board's decision in the "dark of night" without a hearing.

Vita Lounge LLC filed suit last summer, claiming the CRA “improperly and unlawfully” disqualified them for an interview, Facebook posts and emails, which urged members of the community to show up at a selection meeting.

On the stand Thursday, Darrin Cummings, the vice president of Vita Lounge LLC, testified that they did not violate city lobbying provisions.

The city's former procurement official, who disqualified Vita lounge over alleged lobbying violations, testified Friday that he believes Cummings did not make contact with West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James or CRA board members, but instead had people do it.

"I took his Facebook posting as seeking other people to do something that he was not able to do, so, indirectly, yes, that was a contact in my perspective," Paul Bassar told the court.

Basser also testified that it was solely his decision to disqualify Vita Lounge LLC and later cancel the request for proposal after another bidder was also disqualified.

Entertainers like Ella Fitzgerald once graced the stage at the Sunset Lounge, dating back to the 1940s and 1950s, which made it a premier Black entertainment venue at a time of racial segregation.

The CRA's nearly $20 million revitalization of the historic venue in the city's northwest community sits empty and without an operator, reportedly costing the CRA $13,000 a month.

Bell did not make a ruling Friday.

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