Kansas City attorney fights Springfield's smoking ban

Saturday, June 4, 2011 | 4:34 p.m. CDT; updated 11:32 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 16, 2011

SPRINGFIELD — A Kansas City attorney who fought a smoking ban in Kansas City has been fighting a similar ban in Springfield.

Jonathan Sternberg is representing a tavern opposed to Springfield's ban. He anticipates making the same argument in Greene County that he made in Kansas City in 2008, according to the Springfield News-Leader.

Set to go into effect June 11, the Springfield ban would generally prohibit smoking inside any place where people work or where the public has access, as well as outdoors in playgrounds and other areas.

He contends the smoking ban approved by Springfield voters in April conflicts with state law, and that makes the city ban invalid. The lawsuit cites Missouri law allowing taverns to make nonsmoking areas unavailable indoors as long as signage is posted outside the bar saying "Nonsmoking Areas are Unavailable."

However, Sternberg was unsuccessful in the Kansas City case; the argument was ultimately struck down by the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals.

Sternberg said the appeals court decided incorrectly and that he hopes a Greene County judge will come to a different conclusion.

"This judge does not have to follow a wrong decision," he said.

Springfield City Attorney Dan Wichmer said he anticipates the courts will find that the Springfield ordinance can exist. But Wichmer said the issue will likely again go to the appeals court before the case is resolved.

"It's going to go up on appeal. It's not going to stop here," he said.

Wichmer and Sternberg appeared in Greene County Judge Jason Brown's courtroom Thursday. A hearing was scheduled to discuss a request for an injunction ahead of the legal arguments in the case, but the parties opted to put the hearing off to give the city time to respond.

Brown wants the city to submit its response to Sternberg's lawsuit by Wednesday. The two sides will then argue whether a preliminary injunction should be put in place to temporarily stop the city's smoking ban.

Jean Doublin, the owner of Ruthie's Bar, the named plaintiff in the case, said her patrons should be allowed to smoke if they so choose, and anyone who doesn't want to be in that environment can go somewhere else.

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