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The civil trial of former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, accused of berating restaurateur John Skiadas four years ago, dissolved into a verbal tug-of-war yesterday after the mayor was called to the stand.
By the end of the afternoon, the hearing had twice been interrupted after tempers flashed between Mr. Finkbeiner and Mr. Skiadas' attorney, John Potts, after Mr. Potts questioned the ex-mayor's abrasive management style. The mayor retorted that yelling can sometimes be justified.
"The party who has done everything right is accused of doing things wrong has the right to be upset," Mr. Finkbeiner said.
Mr. Skiadas, the owner of Pepe's Mexican Restaurant & Cantina on West Sylvania Avenue, was trying to open a restaurant at the Erie Street Market in the summer of 2000.
Yesterday, Mr. Finkbeiner testified that Mr. Skiadas had missed at least two deadlines to open the second Pepe's, and had repeatedly treated city inspectors and economic development officials with "immense disrespect."
It was, in part, for that reason that Mr. Finkbeiner went to the market on July 14, 2000, to meet with Mr. Skiadas, he said.
Mr. Finkbeiner conceded that he raised his voice with the restaurateur that day.
"I treated Mr. Skiadas with the same respect he had been paying to city employees in the weeks preceding my visit," Mr. Finkbeiner said.
Mr. Skiadas testified during the trial in Lucas County Common Pleas Court last week that Mr. Finkbeiner yelled, cursed, and poked his finger into the restaurateur's head and chest and struck him on the chest with his fist during a confrontation at the market that day. The now-64-year-old man subsequently underwent a heart catheterization and angioplasty.
Mr. Skiadas claims the stress from the incident caused him to suffer an angina attack that sent him to a hospital, and that he was so badly traumatized, he was suicidal and depressed and became less involved in the operation of the restaurants. He is suing for more than $25,000 in damages.
Yesterday morning, Mr. Skiadas' daughter, Giorgina Deason, testified that her father, normally an ambitious and friendly businessman, withdrew after the confrontation. "It was like the world had caved in on him," she said.
After lunch, Mr. Potts called Mr. Finkbeiner to the stand. He first established Mr. Finkbeiner's reputation for being a taskmaster who berates employees he feels have fallen short of expectations.
"Did you ever yell at your staff?" Mr. Potts asked.
"Oh, yes, I yelled at my staff," Mr. Finkbeiner replied, noting that he oversaw 3,100 employees.
"I will tell you I raised my voice to more than one or two of them, and that's been fairly well documented through the daily and other newspapers," he said.
Then why was it wrong for Mr. Skiadas, who also was frustrated at the delays of his restaurant, to yell at city inspectors and the mayor's staff, Mr. Potts wanted to know.
"He was doing it the wrong way and screaming and hollering at people who were doing their jobs, and that's the difference," Mr. Finkbeiner said.
Among those Mr. Skiadas had disrespected, Mr. Finkbeiner testified, was Julie Champa, then manager of the market. Mr. Skiadas was frustrated because he hadn't received a key to get into the building, making it harder to work late, Mr. Potts said.
"You say Mr. Skiadas yelled at her at extreme volume and cursed at her at close proximity?" Mr. Potts asked Mr. Finkbeiner.
"Yes, sir," Mr. Finkbeiner replied.
"Was that conduct helpful?" Mr. Potts pressed.
"Was it appropriate conduct on the part of Mr. Skiadas?"
Mr. Potts again returned to Mr. Finkbeiner's comments about when it is appropriate to yell.
"So the standard is whether the person is correct [about] the issue at hand?" Mr. Potts said.
An obviously annoyed Mr. Finkbeiner leaned into the microphone of the witness stand. "You can keep asking it until hell freezes over, sir, and I will keep answering it."
Mr. Potts lashed back. "Maybe it will get cold in here soon."
Eventually, Judge Charles Wittenberg chastised Mr. Potts after he pressed Mr. Finkbeiner about his characterization that Mr. Skiadas "laughed" at advice and orders from city staff.
"You're asking me to believe he laughed at the delays of his restaurant business?" Mr. Potts said, slamming papers down onto a desk.
"Mr. Potts, please," Judge Wittenberg interrupted, "there's no reason to yell and scream."
Mr. Finkbeiner is expected to resume his testimony at 9 a.m. today.
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