Lewis v. Ressom, the federal discrimination lawsuit filed by the Enterprise Theater & Jazz Lounge against its landlord, has been dismissed.
Officially, the reason for dismissal is plaintiff Charletta “C.J.” Lewis‘ failure to file certain relevant documents requested by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell. Lewis acknowledges she did not file the documents in question. But, as with so much of this legal saga, there’s a twist: Lewis says she deliberately neglected to file the papers, in order to force a dismissal. In essence, she sabotaged her own lawsuit.
“The whole thing has caused me great distress,” Lewis says—-speaking carefully in consideration of ongoing legal difficulties. “The suit happened when I was going through a very vulnerable time. It went further than I ever intended, and some things happened that I didn’t expect to happen.”
In particular, Lewis has met considerable friction from the city’s Ethiopian community, spurred by some of the statements made by her attorney in the federal suit, Jimmy A. Bell. When the defendant, Michael Ressom, countered the suit’s charges of racial discrimination against the African-American Lewis by demonstrating that he himself is an Ethiopian immigrant, Bell insisted to Washington City Paper that Ressom was not African-American. “African-American means you are a descendant of a slave,” he said. “This guy’s an Ethiopian immigrant, who wasn’t naturalized as a citizen until November 2010.” (Bell declined to comment for this article, except to confirm that the case had been voluntarily dismissed.)
Lewis says that she has frequently met members of D.C.’s substantial Ethiopian population who have come to The Enterprise to size her up. She says that she has no animus toward that community or any other. “It was never my intention to insult the Ethiopian community,” she says. “I don’t hate anybody.” She doesn’t even hold a grudge toward Ressom, who as landlord comes by the club fairly regularly; Lewis welcomes and hugs him when he does, she says.
Lewis hopes to repair the damage in the coming months, especially through the social outreach she had in mind when she opened The Enterprise. In the meantime, she continues to search for a solution to her lingering legal entanglements. “I’ll be able to explain much more after I’ve taken care of everything,” she says.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery