BOOM BOOM, OUT GO THE LIGHTS?

Tough times at Orange County's flagship gay nightclub

"John's been gouging the customers and destroying a lot of good feelings people had in the community about the Boom," Foutch said.

Weak drinks or not, the bar still maintains—to Halderman's credit—a loyal following. That following is particularly strong among the younger gay crowd and out-of-town gay tourists that are fond of the go-go dancers, special events and rousing beachfront atmosphere.

Halderman himself declined repeated requests for interviews, but through court pleadings and his attorney, it is clear he has a different version of events. Contrary to his former associates' claims of being screwed, Gratz maintained Halderman is the victim. In an interview with the Weekly, he said, "Mr. Attebury has been giving a story that in certain ways in a radical departure from the truth. You have a complaint here that is absolutely without merit."

Gratz has not been shy about his contempt for the lawsuit, writing at one point in the 3-foot-high court file, "It appears to be an action by a disgruntled discharged employee alleging the usual panoply of claims."

Rather than greediness or retaliation, Gratz said the events leading to "Craig being fired were his drunkenness, abusiveness to Mr. Halderman and other employees, and his incompetence." In court records, Halderman accuses Attebury of failing to maintain adequate cash and accounting systems, inventory, bank records, and a proper kitchen. "He simply didn't have the background or experience to handle the job," Gratz said.

Gratz portrayed Foutch and Attebury as two desperate, plotting and ungrateful youngsters anxious to flee Dallas and latch on to the happy-go-lucky, financially secure Halderman. "Poor Tim and Craig," said a Gratz, mockingly. "Being induced to devote their lives to this enterprise and being ripped-off by John. Well, that doesn't play well with me….The fact is John came to California to retire. The money was his. He was induced by them to buy the [Boom].

"John is such a nice guy. He gave these two guys free cars, jobs and a place to live," said the Laguna Beach attorney who questioned why anyone would believe he or she could rely on an oral agreement "for a multimillion-dollar leveraged buyout." Arguing that Attebury's breach of contract and fraud claims had no legal merit, Halderman asked Superior Court Judge Randall L. Wilkinson to dismiss that portion of the case.

"What they have said about me is blatantly false," said Attebury, who takes particular umbrage that a partnership agreement is now denied. "If all three of us weren't to be owners, why did John come up with the name JTC Laguna Resorts for our company? JTC stands for John, Tim and Craig."

Lampel, Attebury's attorney, confidently told the Weekly several weeks ago that he would have few problems proving his client's case at the trial. "Why would my client move across the country, work 80 hours a week for three years, manage the bar—building the business into a cash cow—and take only $18,000 a year when the bartenders can make over $40,000?" he said. "When I show all the evidence, there is no doubt a jury will be outraged and conclude Craig was deceived by someone who is really clever."

But it looks like a jury will never hear Attebury's breach of contract and fraud claims. On April 24, Wilkinson dismissed a significant portion of the case, ruling that whatever oral agreement Halderman and Attebury had is not legally enforceable. Lampel, who called the ruling "horrible," said he may seek a reconsideration or file an appeal. Gratz said the judge's move sustains his contention that no part of Attebury's case is legitimate. Attebury's charges of sexual harassment, sexual battery, hostile work environment and retaliatory termination for refusing to perform illegal acts remain in the case and appear headed for jury trial, which is scheduled to begin in October.

Regardless of the legal issues, both parties remain hostile to one another. As if to fire a warning shot if the matter ever reaches a jury, Lampel added, "There is so much more dirt as to what happened it will make people's heads spin."

Not to be outdone, the other side is just as battle-ready. "God willing," Gratz said, "I'll never have to use what I have on Tim and Craig." 

If the threat of additional unsavory allegations coming to light during the trial or the possibility of Attebury winning a substantial financial verdict—what could be a crippling amount for the boom—isn't enough, Halderman faces the pending ABC probe that could result in the bar business's death penalty: the permanent revocation of a liquor license. While outcomes are now uncertain, one thing is sure: losing the Boom Boom Room would have a dramatic impact on Orange County's gay nightlife.

"John needs to know that I am not going to go away until I get what I am entitled to," said Attebury, who teamed up again with Foutch to run Gay Mart, a clothing, card and video shop located directly across the street from the Boom. Their new business has been so successful they have opened stores in Palm Springs and San Diego, and they recently announced expansion plans for Long Beach, Las Vegas and New York City. "I don't want this to happen, but the Boom could be turned into a ghost town by this mess," he said.

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