@BaltoBeerBaron Looks Back On The Liquor Board: Top 10 Outrageous Moments
9) Don’t Stand So Close to Me: At the Board, we don’t have a witness box. All the lawyers and witnesses stand side-by-side in front of us during hearings. When an underage drinker was summonsed to appear at the Liquor Board a few years ago, the lawyer for Baja Beach Club got in the young witnesses’ face during cross-examination and the witness turned pale. Moments later, she fainted and hit the ground. She was fine, but we decided not to let opposing counsel stand so close to witnesses during cross-examination after that.
8) The Magic of Television: The televising of the Board’s hearings for the first time in agency history began in October, 2012. At first, I joked that they call the City’s cable channel “TV25” because only 25 viewers were watching. It may have started that way, but I had more and more people on the street every month who would come up to me and talk about a hearing they had watched. In fact, when TV 25 started airing the liquor board hearings in the late evening, people would tell me that they would come home from dinner, get in bed, and flip through the channels. Some of them told me they couldn’t stop watching and I made them stay up too late.
Television changed the way we did business during our hearings. I had to get vice officers in prostitution solicitation cases to start paraphrasing the testimony of their explicit conversations with Block dancers since we were on live TV on Thursday afternoons.
Speaking of vice:
7) Let’s Take a Short Recess: There was that weird coincidence where groups of school children would stop through our hearing room on a tour of City Hall, but only, it seemed, when we were conducting prostitution solicitation violations hearings for bars on the Block. We always tried to take a short break when that happened.
6) Implausible Defense: A defense lawyer for a nightclub on the Block argued repeatedly, with a straight face, that the dancer there had agreed to be paid $150 by an undercover police officer simply for the right to be a gentleman and drive her home, and nothing else.
5) Shift Meal: An undercover officer was offered sex in exchange for a sandwich by a dancer on the Block. She didn’t have time to leave the club during her dance shift and told an undercover officer that if he procured her a sandwich down the street, she would be intimate with him. We found the club not guilty in that case.
4) Close to Home: After parking my car in front of a bar close to my home late one night after Liquor Board hearings, I saw a man wearing a ski mask and dragging a sledge-hammer down the street. I specifically remember the sound of the sledgehammer clinking against the street. Given the man’s appearance, I was a little nervous. The masked man paused before he walked into that bar. He said, “Good evening, Mr. Chairman. See you soon.” He looked like an executioner, but I quickly realized he was a BPD Vice Detective who busted open illegal video poker machines with the sledgehammer during raids and routinely appeared before the Board.
3) No Hip-Hop For You: A small community association entered into a Memorandum of Understanding agreement with a bar owner to prohibit, among other things, “hip-hop music” from being played at the bar. Commissioner Elizabeth Smith, a fan of that musical genre, took umbrage with the proviso. The Board refused to adopt the Memorandum of Understanding so that we would never have to enforce that seemingly-discriminatory term of the agreement.
On to the top two:
2) High Voltage: Infamous nightclub owner Louis Principio admitted to driving around on a golf cart in the parking lot of Voltage nightclub doing “drive-by” pepper sprayings of innocent customers and a uniformed police officer at closing time in December 2012. He apologized to the officer at the hearing, saying he couldn’t see that he was macing a man in uniform because he had been temporarily blinded by having been back-splashed by spraying so much pepper spray at patrons while driving the golf cart.
1)“Simulated Sex With a Potted Plant”: At the infamous Tiki Barge violation hearing, witnesses testified that, among other transgressions, a customer was observed engaging in some dirty dancing with a potted palm. The license was suspended, and later reduced to a fine and an agreement by the bar to alter its security policies. It was a very good thing that the case got worked out, since a protest movement was starting on Facebook where people were urged to meet on Cross Street and bring their favorite potted plants as romantic companions.
I am finishing up this article before I hear my first cases as a Judge of the Orphans’ Court next week. I want you to know that I only agreed to this retrospective because I respect City Paper so much. I looked forward to reading it every week since I was a UB law student killing time at the Mt. Royal Tavern in 1991. Twenty-three years later and I’m still grabbing a copy every Wednesday. They were the only publication who endorsed me in my underdog bid to become State’s Attorney in 2006 and they were the ones who put Morrissey’s face on my body. Thank you, City Paper!