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Liquor Issues

by Danielle Sweeney11:14 amOct 29, 20140

A zombie lingers, a cop doesn’t show, a suspension goes away

How the Liquor Board handled cases involving bars in West Baltimore, Fells Point and Graceland Park

Above: Peter Prevas and (to his right) Playbook co-licensee George Divel III.

A zombie license for a long-shuttered West Baltimore bar came again before the Liquor Board and, given another chance to kill it off, the commissioners didn’t take it.

But by a 2-1 vote they did deny the request for a transfer sought for Lil’s Place, 1909 N. Pulaski Street. Licensee Lillie Driver wanted to transfer the license for Lil’s (closed since November 2012) to her daughter Dale Watkins.

Chairman Thomas Ward and Commissioner Dana Petersen Moore voted against the transfer, saying it wasn’t in the best interest of the neighborhood and because the tavern had been closed for some time. Commissioner Harvey E. Jones voted in favor of the transfer saying he believes the character of the future owner is the only matter the board is required to consider in ownership transfers.

Just two months ago, the board granted Lil’s a hardship extension, but at last Thursday’s hearing, Moore said she would not have done so if she knew what she knows now.

“I have since received the complete information. If I had had that information on August 21, I would not have voted in favor [of the extension],” said Moore, who then went through the eight inspections showing the establishment was closed for years. She pointed out that there was no discussion in any of the previous hearings regarding the last use of the license.

14-year-old in the Bar

Playbook, a sports bar at 6700 German Hill Road in Graceland Park, was suspended for six weeks and fined $4,000 for a laundry list of violations including serving a minor, disturbing the peace, live entertainment, admitting an unaccompanied 14-year-old (who had to be taken home by the police), not having a trader’s license, not having an alcohol awareness certificate available and letting a patron leave with an open container.

Two of the licensees, George Divel, III, and William Matricciani, came before the board with witnesses, to answer for the charges, which occurred in June, July, and September of this year.

The sports bar has a tumultuous history with the community which, according to the board, had filed a protest of renewal in 2012, and at the time paid a $2,000 fine. In 2013, the bar received a four-week suspension.

But a surprise came during the decision phase of the hearing, when the board often takes into account previous violations – Playbook, it turns out, never served that 2013 suspension.

A “Vacated” Suspension

Playbook’s lawyer Peter Prevas told Ward the suspension was “vacated.”

Ward seemed surprised. He asked Prevas if he went to a hearing. Prevas replied that he filed a memorandum and resolved the issue through an agreement with the board’s attorney, Alice Pinderhughes.

Playbook’s suspension was for weekends only – not consecutive days as required by board rules. Playbook had appealed the decision to the Circuit Court, arguing the board had, essentially, imposed a punishment that it couldn’t enforce.

Community Law Center attorney Rebecca Lundberg Witt, who blogs at Booze News, told The Brew that while board rules do require suspensions to run consecutively, there was no hearing held in that appeal, so nothing was “vacated.”

In an interview with The Brew, she said she has observed that these conversations between the board’s attorney and the licensees’ counsel do take place and can result in a “stipulation of dismissal.” But that doesn’t make them right.

“In my opinion, that case should have then gone back to the Board for the commissioners to issue a lawful suspension of consecutive days. I have no idea why that suspension just disappeared into thin air,” she said. “So, a judge never heard this appeal, the suspension was not ‘vacated’ – it was just issued incorrectly and then forgotten about.”

Ward said at the hearing he wanted it on the record that the board is not in favor of having its closures “upset by the Circuit Court.”

No-show cops? Charges Dropped

Arcos, a tavern located at 129 S. Broadway in Fells Point, was fined $3,000 (with $1,500 suspended) for selling alcoholic beverages without a liquor license in May.

The licensee and tavern’s owner Nicolas Ramos, explained that the bar had had financial problems and let the license lapse.

Arcos, which has been open for 10 years, is now closed, but does plan to reopen, Ramos said.

Ramos had also been charged with over-serving patrons and disturbing the peace (a fight inside the bar that, according to the charges, required four police officers to break up last November), but those charges were dropped when city police officers failed to appear before the board.

“We have no testimony on the first two [charges]” said Ward, who dismissed both.

When the police fail to show up as witnesses, the board typically drops the charges. It’s a chronic liquor board problem that often results in charges just – going away. (Described here and here.)

Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, executive secretary for the board, said she had no idea why the police failed to appear in the case.

She added that the charges were almost a year old and with older charges it is possible the officers have moved on to different precincts and may not have received the summons, which are still delivered in hard copy form, not electronically.

The board is in the process of implementing an electronic system of police notification, she said.

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