Booze News: Distilled in Room 215

A blog about the Baltimore City Liquor Board

What happened at the Liquor Board on May 19, 2016.

Written by Becky Witt

10:00 AM

Chairman Matricciani opened up the docket by stating that the licensees whose licenses are being protested have demonstrated to staff that their renewal applications are complete. Protests have been filed which also meet statutory standards, which must be set for hearings. If the complaints are proven to be true, the Board is entitled to deny the renewal of a liquor license. The evidence presented should be clear, weighty and persuasive, and Matricciani asked protestants to be clear about the specific complaints that they allege. Also, documents are supposed to be submitted 48 hours before the hearing; if they are not submitted ahead of time, they may not be given full consideration, depending on the circumstances.

Licensees Thomas Coyle, Yong Coyle & Melody Gooden
Business Name Tom & Dan, LLC
Trading As Half Mile Track
Address 4108 Frederick Avenue
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine and Liquor License
Reason for hearing Protest of Renewal
Hearing notes

Mr. Prevas made a preliminary motion to dismiss the protest. He noted that, in the Liquor Board’s file, five of the twelve notifications sent to protestants were returned by the United States Postal Service as “undeliverable.” He alleged that the signatories to the petition were “highly questionable” and had submitted addresses that were not accurate.

After some further discussion about whether or not the properties were vacant or inhabited and the ownership of those properties, Chairman Matricciani ruled that there was no clear evidence that the people who signed were not residents, so he allowed the protest hearing to go forward.

Mr. Prevas pointed out that the petition’s main complaint is that the bar has been closed for years. Mr. Coyle, one of the three licensees, testified that his bar is currently open and operating, one or two days per week. He provided a list of the days he had been open over the last year. He also submitted receipts for alcohol purchased during the license year, albeit for very small quantities. Prevas submitted an inspection report from the past year, showing that a Liquor Board inspector had been to the establishment while it was open. A community member testified in favor of the bar, saying that she goes occasionally to have a soda. Commissioner Moore asked for a sales tax report for the business. Mr. Prevas responded that his client could get the report from his accountant.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Helen Holton, who represents the 8th district, testified that Mr. Coyle had listened to and addressed concerns from the community. She said that the establishment does not open every day, but it does open occasionally for a “mature crowd.”

The only protestant who was present was Ms. Robinson, who testified that she had been to a meeting held by the Citizens Planning and Housing Association (CPHA) in which she had heard that if an establishment is not operation for six months, their license is automatically revoked. She said that, when the bar had previously been open, it had caused a lot of problems for the community, and she did not believe that it had been open for years. She mentioned that trash and parking were huge issues. She made lots of 911 calls to the police. These issues mostly stopped around 2013 or before.

Zoning B-2-2
Neighborhood Irvington
Area demographics 8% White, 88% Black, 0% Asian; 1% Hispanic ethnicity; 36% households have children under age 18; 19% households live under the poverty line; median household income: $33,504.32
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee Mr. Peter Prevas
# in support ~5
Attorney for community None
# of protestants 1
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing License renewed
Vote tally Unanimous
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision

Commissioner Moore noted that the specific reason given in the petition for the protest was that the establishment hasn’t been open and operating. Mr. Coyle, in her opinion, provided enough evidence to show that the business was operating and did some liquor sales between 2014 and 2016. There was testimony from a community member that she had been there recently. Commissioner Greenfield agreed that the bar seems to be open occasionally. He was also concerned about the perhaps-false addresses given next to the signatories’ names on the petition. Chairman Matricciani also agreed that the license should be renewed. He said that the complaints about the bar seem to go back to a time when someone else was managing it. There was not much evidence about recent problems. He told Ms. Robinson that the Board has heard and understood her concerns, however.

Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None

11:30 AM

DISCLAIMER Community Law Center Staff Attorney and Booze News blogger Becky Lundberg Witt represented the community association in this case.
Applicant Fred Allen
Business Name Park-Read, Inc.
Trading As The Drinkery
Address 203-09 Read Avenue
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Protest of Renewal
Hearing notes

Community Law Center attorney and Booze News blogger Becky Witt represented the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association in opposing the renewal of the liquor license at The Drinkery. Five nearby community residents testified in opposition to the renewal of the license. Mark Henderson, who lives across the street, testified about the constant noise and trash that he deals with as a neighbor to The Drinkery. He said that visitors to his home are harassed by Drinkery patrons and feel unsafe. He also testified about receiving a racially charged letter from the licensee, Mr. Fred Allen, after he brought up some of his complaints to him directly. Mr. Allen wrote in the letter that he intended to sell the business to a “black bail bondsman” who would run the place as an Adult Entertainment venue. The letter closed “enjoy your new neighbor.” Mr. Henderson said that he found this letter offensive and shocking, and it dissuaded him from talking to Mr. Allen further about his concerns. Ms. Allison Flynn testified that she is often awoken in the night by Drinkery patrons and changes her walking routes to avoid the corner. Mr. Curtis testified that, when he was President of the community association, he worked with others to raise $30,000 to install a CitiWatch camera at that exact corner so that the police could better monitor the activity of the bar patrons. Michael Pugh, another nearby resident and business owner, testified that the bar is fairly quiet during the day, but that he has to pick up and wash away trash, condoms, vomit, urine, and other detritus due to Drinkery patrons.

Baltimore City Police Officer Corell testified about the resources that the Drinkery takes up from the Central District; he said that the police, when they can, station a patrol car outside the establishment, because the likelihood of violence outside is high. He said that he is called to the Drinkery more regularly than any of the other similar bars in the area. Officer Hooper testified about a particular stabbing incident which happened right in front of the bar and submitted still images taken from the CitiWatch camera of the number of people loitering outside at the time of the stabbing.

Mr. Kodenski objected to Councilmember Eric Costello’s letter to the BLLC in support of the MVBA’s position, because it did not contain any specifics.

Kodenski called Chief Liquor Inspector Mark Fosler, who testified that the office had received relatively few 311 complaints. He was not able to corroborate complaints about incidents like the stabbing, because the complaints were received several days later. A manager and several patrons testified that they did not see issues like fights inside the bar. One employee said that, if patrons began to argue, they would be removed and told to leave. Both patrons and employees said that loitering was not permitted, but the people who were standing outside were taking smoke breaks. Mr. Abraham Hurdle testified that his girlfriend feels safer around the Drinkery than around other quieter parts of the Mount Vernon neighborhood. Commissioner Greenfield asked Hurdle whether he was co-counsel on the case; when Hurdle admitted that he had been involved in the case, the Chairman was surprised, pointing out that attorneys are not allowed to also serve as witnesses in the same case. Mr. Fred Allen testified that he did write the letter that Mr. Henderson received, but that it was not meant as a threat. He said that he had not heard any complaints from the community and that he is at the bar every day around noon for about an hour or so.

Zoning B-5-1
Neighborhood Mount Vernon
Area demographics 53% White, 32% Black, 8% Asian, 3% 2 or more races; 4% Hispanic ethnicity; 6% households have children under age 18; Median Household Income: $38,331; 5.5% households live below poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee Mr. Melvin Kodenski
# in support ~30
Attorney for community Ms. Becky Lundberg Witt
# of protestants ~25
# of inspectors/police officers 2
Result of hearing Renewal denied
Vote tally 2-1
Portions of state law cited in decision None.
Other reasons given for decision

Commissioner Moore noted that she took into account the numerous complaints and documented fights at the location. She believed that there had been a great disturbance of the surrounding area, with a correspondingly significant draw of the Baltimore City police department’s limited resources. She did believe that the licensee had shown contempt for the community on more than one occasion, which she did not understand. She appreciated the long history of the use of the license, with no violations. However, she also pointed to the complaints and the testimony, which was very disturbing. She found the photographs taken by the CitiWatch camera during the knife fight to be disturbing. She also was concerned that the licensee was only at the bar for about an hour and a half per day and then was fairly unreachable. She voted not to renew.

Commissioner Greenfield also said that he was concerned about the community complaints, and the police time taken away from bigger issues. He also considered the long history of the license, without any violations. He said that Mr. Allen needs to do much more to address the concerns. However, he believed that there were not enough specific complaints to decide not to renew the license. He encouraged the community to stay “vigilant” and continue to make complaints, which Commissioner Greenfield would take very seriously. He voted to renew.

Chairman Matricciani agreed that it was a difficult case without a strong historical record of violations. He told Mr. Allen that, if he believed that what happened outside of his bar was not his problem, he was mistaken. He noted that the licensee’s witnesses admitted to some disorderly conduct inside the bar. He voted not to renew.

Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

The 2013 Legislative Audit, which is overdue for an update, showed that inspectors regularly did not perform inspections after receiving complaints. In May 2011, 31 out of 54 total complaints received were closed without any evidence of investigation. When inspectors did investigate, it sometimes took them days to begin their investigations. This failure to regulate could explain why an establishment like the Drinkery could have created negative community impact without any violations on the record.

1:30 PM

Licensees Jae Ho Hwang & Ki Suk Sohn
Business Name New Four G’s Enterprises, Inc.
Trading As Four G’s Liquor & Lounge
Address 4701 Liberty Heights Avenue
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Protest of Renewal
Hearing notes

Before any community testimony was taken, Chairman Matricciani asked counsel for both sides to come forward. Mr. John A. Pica, Jr., former Maryland state senator and attorney for the licensee, made a motion to dismiss the protest petition. Pica pointed out that the signed document in the file was not a protest petition; rather, it was a postponement request, which did not state any specific complaints about the establishment. Mr. Thomas Maronick, for the Howard Park community, responded that the petitions were submitted on time. The Chairman responded that timeliness wasn’t the issue. Maronick said that there were numerous complaints submitted for the record, including complaints regarding loitering, drug activity, recent deadly shootings, etc. Maronick said that these complaints were meant to supplement what had previously been filed, and that they had been submitted to the Board between April 1-28. The petitions were due by March 31.

Chairman Matricciani replied that “the problem is jurisdictional.” The rule states that the petition has to be filed by March 31. He pointed out that the Board doesn’t have a specific complaint before March 31. Maronick responded that there was clearly something filed. Matricciani agreed, but what was filed was a request for postponement. Matricciani said that Maronick would have to raise that issue with the Circuit Court on appeal.

Zoning B-2-2
Neighborhood Howard Park
Area demographics 2.2% White, 94.3% Black, 0.3% Asian; 1.6% Hispanic ethnicity; 30% households have children under age 18; 18% households live under the poverty line; median household income: $39,467.90
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee Mr. John Pica, Jr.
# in support ~30
Attorney for community Mr. Thomas Maronick
# of protestants ~30
# of inspectors/police officers 0
Result of hearing Petition dismissed
Vote tally None taken
Portions of state law cited in decision Art. 2B section 10-301
Other reasons given for decision
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

Rule 2.04(b)(i) of the Liquor Board’s Rules and Regulations does require that all protest of renewal petitions contain “specific complaints concerning the operation of the establishment,” which the petition submitted for this address did not contain. However, the real question about this hearing is: when BLLC staff received the postponement request from the community about this establishment, why did they treat it as a protest of renewal petition and schedule it on the docket as such? Why did staff not respond to the residents with information about the renewal protest scheduling and the requirements for the protest?

BLLC staff were made aware of the issue with the petition on May 9, 2016, via an email from the author of this blog, which read:

“Dear Mr. Akras and Mr. Paige:
I am not representing any organization in protesting the renewal of the liquor license for 4G’s.
However, when I look at the petition submitted in the attached docket for 4G’s (on pages 17 and 18 of the PDF), I see a postponement request, not a renewal protest petition. My concern is that community members are going to show up for the hearing and not be allowed to testify, because the 4G’s licensees will challenge the petition as being insufficient under Art. 2B section 10-301. As we all heard during the public outreach meeting in Northwest Baltimore, when community members have bad experiences at the Liquor Board (e.g., when they’re not allowed to testify or when the law is not clearly explained at a hearing), those negative experiences impact their ability to advocate for their communities for years and even decades.
So I guess my question is: is it the commissioners’ position that the postponement request that you have on file is sufficient to count as a “protest” under Art. 10-301? If not, I would argue that renewal protest hearing should be cancelled so that the community members’ and licensees’ time is not wasted.
Becky Witt”

The BLLC staff did not reply. In an article published on the Baltimore Brew, Deputy Executive Secretary Tom Akras said that he could not take a scheduled item off the docket and that the community “will have to come to the hearing on Thursday and see what happens.” But Mr. Akras, or someone on the Liquor Board’s staff, placed the hearing on the docket in the first place. Is it logical that someone can place something on the docket but not be able to remove it if he makes an error? This was a mistake made by the agency itself, which the agency then refused to correct and was born by the community members, who were unnecessarily inconvenienced.

2:30 PM

DISCLAIMER Community Law Center Staff Attorney and Booze News blogger Becky Lundberg Witt represented the community association in this case.
Applicant Domingo Kim
Business Name Domingo Kim Enterprises, Inc.
Trading As Stadium Lounge
Address 3351-53 Greenmount Avenue
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Protest of Renewal
Hearing notes

The Chairman invited Mr. Kodenski to raise his preliminary motions and arguments before moving to the substance of the case. Mr. Kodenski first argued that the state legislature’s decision to shift the appointment power of the Liquor Board commissioners from the governor to the mayor and city council president was unconstitutional. Second, he argued that the petition should be dismissed due to a lack of specificity of the allegations. Third, he argued that Commissioner Moore should recuse herself as a commissioner, because she heard prior testimony in a prior hearing that related to this licensee. He also argued that Ms. Witt should recuse herself as Waverly Improvement Association’s attorney, because she had worked with that group in negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding about the establishment’s practices over the past license year. After Ms. Witt said that she would not testify on behalf of her client, which is forbidden under the Rules of Professional Responsibility, the Chairman denied Kodenski’s motions and moved on to the substance of the protest of renewal. At this point, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke objected to the summons issued to Waverly’s former president, which, Clarke argued, was intimidating to her and unnecessary. Chairman Matricciani explained that summonses are often issued, not to intimidate, but to make sure that people are present whose testimony is necessary.

Witt raised an issue, first, that the licensee is not a Baltimore City resident, which, she argued, is required under Article 2B. After hearing argument from both sides and testimony from Deputy Executive Secretary Thomas Akras, the Chairman chose to move forward to the merits of the protest.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke testified that Stadium Lounge is a real impediment to the community and she expressed frustration that nothing had been done to address it. She particularly emphasized the proximity to the newly rebuilt Waverly Elementary and Middle School and the route that children take to and from the building. A nearby neighbor, Natalya, testified about the traffic and congestion as well as huge amounts of bottles and cans that she cleans from her yard that originate from Stadium Lounge. She also testified about Stadium Lounge patrons that she had personally seen urinating, defecating and masturbating on the street. Every day she sees someone urinating outside their car of into her yard. She testified that, when the bar was closed, the neighborhood changed dramatically for the better: the trash situation improved and the yelling and fighting went away. Another neighbor, Pat, testified about her experience when the Stadium Lounge suddenly reopened with no notice to the community. Mary, who lives nearby, testified that she saw a Stadium Lounge patron urinate near her house on Easter Sunday when she was cooking dinner for her family. She testified that there is an open air drug market in front of the establishment, which Mr. Kim does not do anything to discourage. Baltimore City Detective Akinwande described an incident in which Mr. Kim had tried to hide evidence and money in his car after police served a warrant on the business for illegal gambling. The protesters then submitted documents, including letters, code enforcement violations, police reports, and 911 call reports.

Mr. Kodenski then called Mr. Frank Boozer, former attorney for Mr. Kim, who testified about the licensee’s long suspension issued in 2015 for illegal gambling and its relationship to his criminal charges. He also testified about the negotiations regarding the Memorandum of Understanding between Mr. Kim and the Waverly Improvement Association, which took place over a period of seven months. Boozer said that, from his point of view, most of the issues that the community raised had been addressed. A Greenmount Avenue business owner testified that Mr. Kim does clean up trash along the corridor. Liquor Board Inspector Mark Fosler testified that he had been out to the business several times over the past year. The inspectors did not write up any violations. They did see patrons go outside and smoke. Several other patrons and employees testified that the Stadium Lounge is not a problem for the community, in their opinion. Finally, Mr. Kim testified on his own behalf that he picks up trash every morning and tried to work with the community.

Zoning B-2-3
Neighborhood Waverly
Area demographics 79% Black, 15% White; 29% households have children under age 18; median household income: $38,733; 18% households live below the poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; no.
Location of entity’s principal office Baltimore, MD
One applicant reside in Balt for 2 yrs? N/A
Pecuniary interest of Baltimore City resident N/A
Attorney for licensee Mr. Melvin Kodenski
# in support ~20
Attorney for community Ms. Becky Lundberg Witt (see disclaimer)
# of protestants ~20
# of inspectors/police officers 1
Result of hearing Postponed to allow attorneys to write memorandum on residency requirement issue
Vote tally None taken
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed

Residency: The 2013 Legislative Audit found that the “BLLC lacked comprehensive policies and procedures to provide structure to the licensing process and to promote consistency and efficiency.” (p15) Though the agency has made great strides to improve their processes, their historical failures still arise quite often.

Summonses: The BLLC should consider and issue regulations about what circumstances should be required in order for the agency to issue summonses. Summonses are issued as a matter of course for witnesses to incidents, especially for violations hearings. Police officers are often summonsed to appear to testify to something that they wrote in their report. However, the agency should be very careful about using their power to summons everyday neighborhood residents simply because the other side wants them to testify. For example, should a licensee be able to request summonses for every neighbor who signs a petition in opposition to their application? This would mean that dozens of people would be forced to take off work and come in to sit in Room 215 of City Hall, just to be cross-examined about a petition. The BLLC has the authority to decide whether or not to issue a summons under Art. 2B section 16-410(b)(1): “For the purpose of all hearings and inquiries which the board is authorized to hold and make, the board may issue summonses for witnesses, and administer to them oaths or affirmations.” The Board may issue a summons; it is not required to do so. The agency should issue summonses only to necessary witnesses and should issue them sparingly, so as not to discourage and intimidate community members from being engaged in their neighborhood.

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