From Ring to Ruling: After Initial Verdict, Case Involving Two Respected Boxing Authorities Continues On
On the 1900 block of E. Venango Street, in the heart of Philadelphia’s Harrowgate neighborhood, a brick building shielded the evening sunrise from the southeast.
That building, the Harrowgate Boxing Club, has served the neighborhood as a nonprofit organization for more than four decades. Now, after its owners lost a civil trial case to a former tenant, its future rests in the hands of the Pennsylvania’s Superior Court.
The case, which occurred at the Court of Common Pleas, is a simple one and revolves around the state’s Landlord Tenant Act of 1951. The dispute between plaintiff Charles “Diesel” Maguire and defendants Charles “Chalie” Sgrillo and John Gallagher, however, is anything but.
Maguire and Sgrillo both have storied histories in local boxing, training both top-notch fighters and kids from impoverished areas in the city. Since late 2014, however, they’ve engaged in a tense legal battle featuring two longtime lawyers in the city: Geoffrey Gompers, representing Maguire, and Steve Marino, representing Sgrillo.
Back in July 2013, Sgrillo and Gallagher verbally agreed to lease out the second floor of Harrowgate Boxing Club to Maguire for $250 a month, according to a criminal complaint.
Gompers and Maguire claimed Sgrillo and Gallagher illegally locked Maguire out, a violation of the Landlord Tenant Act of 1951. When Maguire failed to pay his $500 rent (it doubled since another tenant had moved out), he was not given 30 days’ notice, according to the complaint.
Last March, a civil trial jury deemed the plaintiff right, and awarded McGuire around $106,000 for punitive damages because of lost potential revenue, court records show.
Marino has since filed an appeal to the state’s Superior Court, claiming a mistrial for multiple reasons. One of those was the court failed to acknowledge Harrowgate Boxing as a nonprofit organization, which would mean Sgrillo and Gallagher cannot be held liable for civil damages, under state statute § 8332.1.
“That law we cite provides immunity to charitable sporting organizations,” Marino said.
Maguire, however, contends that the jury was right in its ruling.
“We’ve said our case in front of a court of law… they lost the suit and broke the law,” he said.
The trial itself — conducted over a nine-day period last March — was an eventful one, both Gompers and Marino said. Court transcripts obtained by Spirit News reveal points of contention outside of the lockout itself.
At one point during the trial, Gompers referred to a prior deposition of Sgrillo from March 2015, in which he asked him if he was “concerned with trying to follow the law” when evicting Maguire.
“Can I be honest with you? Fuck the law. Here’s the thing. We are trying to do things for kids. This guy is coming in one stinking year and he’s going to try to ruin everything for us,” Sgrillo answered in that deposition.
Marino contended that this line has been taken out of context and focusing on this one exchange is an injustice.
“[Sgrillo and Gallagher] are not sophisticated in the law,” he said. “John decided to change the locks, which was wrong … but you have to look at the whole picture [of the trial].”
Another point of debate was a leaky roof that Maguire said he had to fix since moving into the second floor. Boxer Joey Dawejko, who was born in Philadelphia and used to train in Harrowgate, testified during the trial he saw Maguire drilling holes in the second floor, above an equipment room. He added he did not have any photos of the act.
This exchange was a microcosm of repairs Maguire claimed to have done on the second floor of Harrowgate, which included painting the walls, fixing windows and the boxing ring’s canvass, costing $15,000, according to the complaint.
Gompers also stated the leaky roof’s damage violated the warranty of habitability, a part of the state’s Landlord Tenant Act. Marino, however, said in his appeal that this only applies to residential leases and that Harrowgate Boxing Club is a commercial property.
“There was no evidence introduced during the course of trial that the 2nd floor boxing gym leasehold was anything but a commercial property,” the appeal stated.
Most recently, the Sheriff’s office was scheduled to act on a writ of execution on January 20, 2017, to collect the contents on the first floor of Harrowgate, in order to help pay for the $106,000 awarded to Maguire. Marino said that sale, however, was delayed and can be prevented because Sgrillo was lent items in the gym from the Veteran Boxers Association and other community organizations.
Last week, another writ of execution was levied on the building itself, which the sheriff’s office still needs to act on, he added.
Both Gompers and Marino complained about how the trial unfolded. Court records indicate both were interrupted by Judge Ellen Ceisler several times during the trial. Ceisler was also critical of both attorneys, including how the trial exceeded an expected time frame.
“This is the first time in the eight and half years that I’ve been on the bench that I haven’t brought my jury in the time frame that I promised, and gave it — so there’s something wrong that happened with you folks, not me,” she stated at the end of the trial’s second day.
At another point, she stated that if either attorney interrupted her, it would be a $50 fine. Court records indicate that at one point, both were fined at the same time.
“The record needs to reflect — because the stenographer can’t capture when all of you have been engaging in this unprofessional, childish, immature conduct, both of you,” she said when explaining the reason for the fines.
Now that an appeal has been filed, Marino said a decision from the Superior Court will probably take a couple months. Sgrillo said he hopes he can save his gym, because of its place in the community.
“I told [my co-workers] to come over to this gym anytime they want,” he said. “You’ll see how kids get together, stay together, work with each other, and try to help each other out. That’s what it’s all about, helping each other out.”