Fayette County

Lawsuit against restaurant manager on hold until juvenile cases end

The courtroom was packed for a Wednesday hearing on the civil case against a Portofino restaurant manager.
The courtroom was packed for a Wednesday hearing on the civil case against a Portofino restaurant manager. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

The civil lawsuit against a Portofino restaurant manager is on hold until proceedings against three juveniles have been resolved in court, Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine ruled Wednesday.

The ruling to stay the civil case came at the conclusion of nearly an hour-long hearing in which attorneys argued whether the judge should order the release of a Lexington police investigative file into the Nov. 5 incident in and near the downtown restaurant.

Michael Robinson, an employee of Portofino, is named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit that seeks damages for battery and false imprisonment against a teenage girl.

Abigail Gates, the mother of the girl, alleges in the suit that Robinson “physically attacked” the girl “when he used his hands to savagely beat her in downtown Lexington.” The suit also alleges that Robinson hurled racial epithets toward the girl and others accompanying her.

The suit does not name the restaurant or its owners as defendants.

Police did not charge Robinson after a review of evidence and consultation with the county attorney’s office. Instead, police filed complaints in December against a teenage boy and girl for misdemeanor theft. Another complaint was filed against a 17-year-old girl for tampering with evidence, a felony, and receiving stolen property, a misdemeanor, police said.

William Davis, the attorney for Abigail Gates, had no comment on Goodwine’s decision. Richard Getty, the attorney for Robinson, said the judge’s decision was “the correct result.”

Getty twice sought police records and recordings related to the Portofino incident, and was twice denied, once because investigation of the incident was ongoing and again on the grounds that the records were exempt because the incident involved juveniles. Getty sought an order from the court providing him access to the police department’s entire files and recordings related to the investigation.

“We believe that there is complete and absolute immunity and that Mr. Robinson’s actions were fully justified and reasonable,” Getty argued in court. “We have good reason to believe that there are sworn statements by these juveniles acknowledging that my client did not lay a hand” on Gates’ daughter, “and that there were no inappropriate comments made by Mr. Robinson nor anyone else involved.”

“We believe that those statements will give even more support to the immunity defense that we have,” Getty said.

But Davis argued that Getty should appeal the police department’s denials for records to the state attorney general’s office. Davis cited a state law that says a complaining party should have the attorney general review a public agency’s denial of records. Another avenue would be to file an action against the police department in circuit court seeking release of the records, Davis said.

“They’re going about it the wrong way,” Davis said of Getty and other lawyers representing Robinson. “That’s what my point is. ... I haven’t been given sworn statements. I haven’t been shown sworn statements. I don’t know what these juveniles said.”

The attorneys and Goodwine will meet May 4 to see whether the juvenile court cases have been resolved.