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Liquor Issues

by Fern Shen4:38 pmSep 18, 20130

Some rules being followed now, but “zombie licenses” linger

Whenever licensees’ attorneys remark on unfamiliar procedures at meetings of the Board of Liquor License Commissioners – essentially that the board is following the letter of the law – Chairman Stephan W. Fogleman cheerfully tells them, “It’s a new day here!”

So says Community Law Center lawyer/blogger Becky Witt as she passes along the latest report (on the Sept. 5 meeting) posted on their watchdog website, “Booze News: Distilled in Room 215.”

In particular, Witt noticed, the commissioners are these days still routinely postponing hearings on applications that do not have three valid character witness signatures.

“Which is wonderful,” Witt told us.

Because of that deficiency, two applications originally on the agenda for the Sept. 5 hearing (3638 Hanover Street T/a Brooklyn House and 4001 Falls Road T/a Red Fish Liquors) were postponed, she reports.

A state audit had knocked the Liquor Board for this deficiency – as well as numerous other bad practices – and the Law Center and Baltimore Brew have reported on the absence of valid character witness signatures as a continuing problem post-audit.

Since then, the board appears to have reformed, aka, “It is a new day. . .”

“Zombie Licenses”

But a “new day” does not appear to have arrived when it comes to liquor licenses transferred by the board, even though they should have expired according to the timetable set out in state law.

This issue arose again last week in the case of Rumors Bar and Grill at 2600 East Monument Street. The applicant sought a transfer of the license from one person to another.

The board’s action in this case was to grant a 180-day extension from the hearing date, even though, according to Witt’s reading of the file, the applicant had not requested an extension.

Maryland Code Article 2B §10-503(d)(4) says: “A transfer of any license shall be completed not more than 180 days after the Board approves the transfer.”

“In this case, as of the September 5, 2013 hearing, 674 days had passed since the [previous] license transfer was approved on November 1, 2011,” Witt noted.

Witt further points out that the original license transfer took place on Nov. 1, not at a public hearing but “in a private conference with former Board Executive Secretary Samuel Daniels.”

Licenses allowed to remain valid past the 180-day deadline (Witt calls them “zombie licenses”) are an ongoing bone of contention, singled out in the audit for particular criticism.

Fogleman, who is looking to a pending attorney general’s opinion and city Circuit Court appeal to clarify the matter, has argued that a strict interpretation of the law imposes an unfair burden on licensees.

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