Volume 74, Number 34 | December 29 - January 04, 2004

A gymnastics judging controversy of another sort

By Lincoln Anderson

After the rent vaulted out of reach at its previous space on Cooper Sq., Sutton Gymnastics, after a three-year search, found in Chelsea what it hoped would be its long-term home for the future. However, after only a year operating at the new location, Sutton Gymnastics was forced to cease business there a few months ago as a result of a judge’s order. A neighboring recording studio had charged that Sutton was making it impossible to function, that as a result of the tots’ tumbling, a session with the Boss had been blown. Yes, the studio claimed, the kids’ bounding and springing had scared off Springsteen.

Popular with Downtown families, Sutton offered gymnastics training for all ages, though specializing in youth gymnastics. The gymnasium offered scholarship programs to children from housing projects.

In September of last year, Sutton Gymnastics opened in a 9,300-sq.-ft. space at Sixth Ave. at 19th St., in what is known as the old “Photographers’ Building.” They spent $750,000 to equip the space for gymnastics.

They first received a temporary restraining order, then were enjoined from operating there as of September of this year, after which they dismantled the gymnasium and have since vacated the space.

Sutton was taken to court by a neighbor, Pilot Recording, a tenant in the building for 10 years.

As Joanne Sotres, Sutton Gymnastics vice president, explained it, the State Supreme Court justice on the case, Rosalyn Richter, told the gymnasium they could keep their 10-year lease, but would no longer be able to do many of their gymnastics programs. Richter stipulated limitations on the hours when gymnastics could be done, making it impossible for Sutton to run its adult program or have its Housing Authority girls’ team practice, with only children under age 10 being allowed unrestricted gymnastics time. Sutton tried to do noise dampening, but it didn’t solve the problem.

The plaintiff claimed the pounding of the young athletes’ feet “made the dials jump,” on his recording equipment, according to Sotres. “He said the drum set played by itself.”

However, Sotres blasted the court decision as a “setup.” When Sutton was looking at the space, she said they were led to believe the recording studio was a photography studio.

“I have the floor plan from we rented the space,” Sotres said.

But Stuart Blander, an attorney representing Will Schillinger of Pilot Recording, said Sutton deserved what it got.

“They should be upset with the landlord, not with us,” Blander said. “We were there first. They were operating a business that made it impossible to record live music — in fact, they put us out of business for a month. In fact, our client was Bruce Springsteen…. Because they were making the noise, we couldn’t book any recording session. The gym had an option: They could have built it soundproof. They didn’t…. They should have done their due diligence.” Vibrations were also a problem, he added, noting, “Jumping causes vibrations through beams — it was moving the mikes and other stuff.

“In my opinion, the kids should blame the gym,” Blander said. He said his client may seek damages against Sutton and the landlord.

Sotres said they had already registered 350 children for the start of the fall season, and expected to have 800 by the time classes filled up, when the judge moved to enjoin their operation.

“We worked so hard to make the place special,” Sotres said sadly, referring to how they put so much money and time and effort into building the space.

Richter was elected to the bench last year, her candidacy championed by Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, a Manhattan political club, and other local progressive Democratic clubs. However, Sotres, devastated and angered by the judge’s decision, claimed Richter seemed to have little sympathy for the children’s gymnastics program, and indicated that her sexuality — as well as the fact the judge is disabled — may have colored her decision.

“She’s gay and she’s crippled,” Sotres said. “She didn’t care about parents and children. She walks with a cane.”

Told of Sotres’ comments about Richter, Blander said, “That’s a horrible statement.”

The response of Melissa Sklarz, GLID’s president, was, “Oh my God! The woman must have been very disappointed.

“I consider Roz to be a hero, a role model,” said Sklarz, who is a transgender woman. “I’m sure she ruled the way she considered fair. All the evidence I saw during the campaign was that Roz would be a great judge…. I’m sorry Sutton didn’t get their way on this.”

Said Brad Hoylman, Sklarz’s predecessor as GLID president, “I think it’s terribly unfortunate that someone would criticize Judge Richter for her sexuality or other characteristics. I’ve known her to be extremely fair minded and respected. I think the case needs to be viewed on its merits.”

Hoylman noted that Richter and her partner, Janet Weinberg, director of the Lesbian and Gay Center, are “pillars in the gay and lesbian community.”

Now Sotres and Sutton Gymnastics are just praying for “a high-powered person,” preferably a pro-bono lawyer, to defend them from Pilot going after damages and, in the best-case scenario, help them get their space back so they can use it again.

“I don’t know how we’re going to do it,” she said. “It would be a miracle.

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