Legal Tender eviction fight heads to district court - Albuquerque Journal

Legal Tender eviction fight heads to district court

The fight over the Legal Tender Saloon and Restaurant in Lamy is moving to court.

In a complaint filed Friday in state District Court, the restaurant operators – John and Cindy Jednak – seek court orders preventing their removal from the historic Lamy Railroad and History Museum.

The complaint maintains that the nonprofit that runs the museum is not in good standing with the state Public Regulation Commission and therefore “lacks the legal authority to evict” the Jednaks’ own nonprofit, Learning Mind, Inc., which ran the Legal Tender.

The Legal Tender, which offered music and dancing, as well as meals, closed over Memorial Day weekend. The dispute over whether the Jednaks should continue running the restaurant has provoked a controversy in Lamy and beyond, as supporters lamented the loss of the Old West experience offered at the restaurant.

Ed Pietras, president of the museum, said Monday he hasn’t seen the complaint but that the museum board has been unfairly “demonized” in the dispute. “We’re not a bunch of evil guys,” he said.

He said the restaurant “got bigger than we wanted it to be” and began to move in on museum displays. “We tried to negotiate and it was John (Jednak) who turned it down,” said Pietras.

He said a new restaurant operator will be found. “I’m sorry it came to all this,” Pietras said. But he added that if the dispute does have to play out in court, “We will ask for discovery of all their books (records) … we will ask for a lot of discovery.”

The museum building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, dates to the 1880s and stands near the eastern terminus of the railroad spur between Santa Fe and Lamy. It has been a saloon/restaurant for much of its history. The museum opened about six years ago after the building was donated by businessman Richard Fisher.

The lawsuit says that, under an agreement accepted by the museum board in September 2011, the Jednaks’ nonprofit would provide 15 percent of gross restaurant revenues to the museum. The restaurant has since provided more than $24,000 to the museum and the Jednaks also “installed upwards of $40,000 of equipment and physical improvements” for restaurant operations, the lawsuit states.

John Day, attorney for Learning Mind, said the museum board has not done anything to “abrogate or change” this original deal with the Jednaks and they believe they can continue to operate under that concessionaire agreement.

“The restaurant would like to keep operating while the details are worked out,” Day said.

In February, the lawsuit says, John Jednak met with museum board member Samuel Lakin and they agreed on a new arrangement to cap what the restaurant would provide to the museum at $600 a week. But Latkin later said the cap should be $700. “There was no agreement on this issue,” the suit states.

In March, another board member informed the Jendaks the $600-a-week cap had been accepted, the suit states. But on April 16, a representative of the museum board emailed Jednak with a proposal that “differed significantly” from this cap arrangement, according to the suit.

About 10 days later, museum leaders posted a notice letter at the Legal Tender congratulating the Jednaks on their success but saying that it turned out that the museum and their restaurant weren’t compatible. “Mr. Richard Fisher donated The Legal Tender to us for a Museum and community functions (not a restaurant) and They cannot coexist,” the letter said.

May 31 deadline

Latkin told the Jednaks to be out of the museum by Friday, May 31.

But the lawsuit maintains the museum can’t evict them because the museum nonprofit hasn’t met PRC requirements and because the museum board is in breach of its own bylaws. The board is supposed to have no more than three members but has 12, and many have exceeded the maximum one-year term, the suit argues.

These irregularities “taken together, the suit maintains, mean no proper action has been taken to change the original agreement under which Learning Mind operated the Legal Tender.”

Pietras said Monday that there was never a written agreement with the Jednaks. He also said two-thirds of the money the restaurant provided to the museum went back into the restaurant.

Cindy Jednak, in an affidavit filed with the suit, says the agreement between Learning Mind and the museum “has been subject to several oral modifications, each of which was made part of a binding contract” through the restaurant’s “diligent and consistent performance of its obligations under the contract.”

Members of the museum board altered the proposed new agreement “to include myriad terms, conditions and requirements that were unacceptable to Learning Mind,” her affidavit states.

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