Record Retrospective: Supreme Court Nominee’s Social Club Nearly Shut Down Over Nuisance Complaints

Editor’s note: President Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to fill the late Justice Scalia’s seat on the United States Supreme Court this past Tuesday. The below Record article from November 30, 1990, describes how Cambridge residents threatened to shut down Gorsuch’s social club, Lincoln’s Inn, over “rowdy, selfish and “anti-social” behavior.”

Lincoln’s Inn Survives Neighborhood Petition

By George Paul

The Lincoln’s Inn Society has survived, for the moment, a threat to its very existence in the latest chapter of a forty-year battle between the Inn and its neighbors.

Citing rowdy, selfish and “anti-social” behavior, a group of Follen Street residents had petitioned the Cambridge License Commission to revoke or severely restrict the Inn’s license to function as a lodging house at the 44 Follen Street address. The Commission rejected such drastic action and gave the Inn a six-month grace period in which to demonstrate more considerate conduct.

The Inn successfully argued that no action by the Commission is necessary since they have recently instituted a comprehensive plan to be more responsive to their neighbors’ concerns. In addition, the group repeatedly denied that it is the source of many of the neighbors’ complaints.

According to the Inn chairman, Ken Mehlman, 3L, the Commission ruled to continue the decision until April in order to give the lnn’s plan a chance to work. “It has worked for the past six weeks,” Mehlman said, “and the License Commission has recognized that.” Mehlman added that the decision showed the Commission was willing to objectively assess the situation, and vindicated the Inn’s assertion that its members were not the exclusive source of much of the offending disturbances.

The group, “Neighbors of the Lincoln’s Inn,” has organized the neighborhood in an effort to drastically curtail Inn activities. Complaints filed with the Commission cited noise, late night parties, rude behavior and poor upkeep as reasons for the Inn to be shut down.

The group had petitioned the Cambridge Licensing Commission to “permanently and unconditionally revoke the [Lodging) License of the Lincoln’s Inn and grant the club one year to cease all activities at its 44 Follen street premises.” In the alternative, the group petitioned the Commission to place severe restrictions on the use of the premises.

In response to the complaints from neighbors, the Inn’s Board of Governors designed a “management plan” whose stated purpose is to “insure that neighbors are not disturbed by noise or any activities of the Inn.” The plan defines steps to decrease everyday noise, limit noise at parties, maintain the premises in an attractive manner, and insure continuity between old and new boards. A statement delivered by the Board of Governors to the Commission stated that “We sincerely believe that these efforts will keep the lnn quiet and a good neighbor and that no action by the Commission is necessary.”

Marc Rodwin, a member of the neighborhood group, hinted that regardless of the final decision handed down in April, the “continual nuisance” of the Inn will have broad ramifications in the community surrounding HLS.

Rodwin stated that the problems associated with the Inn, also affect his view of the proposed expansion of the Law School campus. “If the law school wants to expand,” he suggested, the local residence groups will demand “assurances of quiet in the surrounding neighborhoods. If the law school cannot even control seven students, how can we be sure it will control the noise level with new dormitories?”

In a letter to the Commission, another neighbor, Gail Gardner, wrote: “As a Harvard alumna, I have often been ashamed in my building and neighborhood to admit my affiliation. These rude and ignorant adolescents… must understand that their privileged position is not a cover for their bizarre behavior.”

Local resident Sheila Cook wrote to the Commission: “In the fifteen years I have lived on Follen Street the members of Lincoln’s Inn have done nothing but disrupt the neighborhood with their illegal parking, their loud and late parties, and their trash which spills over the entire neighborhood… It is clear that the Inn’s members care only for themselves.”

Mehlman recognized that “there have been some legitimate gripes, no question.” He noted that he felt that the “problem of the past” was continuity. “We just didn’t know how vehement their concerns were,” he added.

Rodwin stated, “This is not against Harvard Law School. We like students. We are just objecting to anti-social behavior. If you want to have a party, there are better places to have it.”

The controversy’s biggest casualty may be the open Inn parties. Like many fraternities nationwide, the Inn’s parties will now be closed—only members and invited guests will be allowed. To avoid legal problems relating to the sale of liquor at parties the Inn will no longer accept seven dollar “donations” from non-members attending parties.

Boardmember Neil Gorsuch, 3L, downplayed the impact of [the] new “management plan” of the Inn. “There are only six to eight parties a year,” Gorsuch replied when asked if fewer and smaller parties would hurt membership. “The Inn is more of a place to hang out.” Members cited the weight room, the chance to meet new people, the billiards table, and Thursday night dinners as reasons for joining.

Rodwin added further that the effort to revoke the Inn’s licenses stems from the failure of past efforts to amicably resolve the problem. Graduate student Kimberly Adams, a six year resident of Follen Street, claims she was told by a former Inn vice-president, “If one chooses to live across from Harvard Law School, one has to put up with the noise from law students.””

The Inn has continually denied that they are responsible for all the problems on Follen Street. Mehlman kept a log of noise on the street after meeting with neighbors. Based on information from the log, the Inn wrote to the Commission, “We believe that many complaints the neighbors have had about noise… are not legitimately attributable to the Inn… Many of our neighbors exaggerated, misrepresented, or misattributed problems involving the Inn.”

Rodwin dismissed such assertions as “ludicrous.”

Resident board member Bob Kroll, 3L, noted that Follen Street is not as quiet as neighbors have portrayed it. “This street is noisy. We’ve got apartment buildings and are next to the Cambridge Commons, Radcliff, the Longy School of Music, and Harvard Square.”

Mehlman said the drastic action the neighborhood group sought was not necessary because of several features of the management plan, some which were suggested by neighbors. Continuity is the key to the program according to Mehlman. Mehlman noted he would personally meet with the new board before they take office. “Making the [new] board aware of the concerns of the neighborhood will be the first thing we discuss.”

Furthermore the management plan calls for “[a] board of local alumni… to insure, among other things, smooth neighbor relations.” The plan dictates that interested neighbors be given the phone numbers of the Inn and members of the Alumni Board so that complaints can be handled effectively.

According to Mehlman, the Inn has already invested over $10,000 to respond to neighbor’s complaints. Mehlman listed the installment of noise reducing thermapane and storm windows, while other windows have been bricked, the hiring of professional landscapers, and the disabling of a piano as changes implemented to accommodate the neighbors.

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