The Park City Council has decided it would "serve no useful purpose" to revoke the business and liquor licenses of two local bars in order to punish them for the high number of drug arrests made on their premises.
The decision follows more than a year of consideration by council members in the case against Main Street private clubs Alamo and The Club. The action was first prompted in November 1987 by Summit County Assistant Attorney Terry Christiansen, who, as the city attorney, considered suspending or revoking the bars' jointly held liquor license or local business licenses.Christiansen had been the prosecuting attorney in scores of illegal drug dealing cases, which resulted from an undercover drug operation. Court testimony in those cases revealed a substantial number of drug buys in the bust - nearly 60 percent - had taken place in one of the two bars.
Citing city ordinances making any illegal act on the premises grounds for revoking the license, Christiansen asked council members to begin proceedings against the clubs
The council planned to hold a hearing on the matter in January 1988. But the attorney for the bars, Joe Tesch, who is now chief assistant Utah attorney general, explained the Utah Supreme Court had recently ruled laws such as the Park City ordinance must include due process provisions.
The city revised its own ordinance to include the due process provisions. Months after Christiansen's letter, the city began a civil administrative proceeding against the bars under the revised statute.
An administrative law judge, A. Robert Thurman from the state Public Service Commission, was hired to hear the case and make recommendations to the council. A special prosecutor, Larry Keller, was hired by the city to try its case against the bars. The trial was held in September and October at an estimated cost of $32,000 in taxpayer money.
Keller argued that the bars were still run by convicted cocaine dealer Mark Stemler, who has been serving time in a California prison since his 1986 conviction. Keller pointed to letters, phone logs and accounting records as evidence.
Thurman, though, found this evidence lacking and stated, "None of the links (asserted to exist between Stemler and the bars) is close to persuasive."
The judge also disregarded Keller's claims as to the amount of drug trafficking at the bars. He said he did not believe the number of police calls was particularly high given the number of customers the two bars attract. There had been only isolated incidents of "misbehavior" and the patrons were "generally under control," the judge said.
In a Feb. 13, 1989, ruling, Thurman pointed out that the city statute says the owner of a business must know about illegal activity on the premises before he or she is liable. But in another section of the same ordinance it cited illegal acts of employees as reason enough to revoke a liquor license. Because the prosecution had never proven owner Therese Lawton knew of the drug buys, Thurman recommended the license not be pulled.
In its decision on March 9, the council disagreed with several of Thurman's findings, but said it has no evidence to contradict them.
For instance, the council ruled in a written decision that "it appears that Mark Stemler is currently a 50 percent shareholder in the business." Council members also found a business license could be revoked if a business is "the site of illegal activity."
The businesses, however, argued that a liquor license could not be revoked unless the owner knew about the illegal activity.
Despite their stated grounds for at least revoking the bars' liquor license, the council ordered the case dismissed.
"They shouldn't take it as victory," said council member Brad Olch. "We only found it would serve no purpose to suspend or revoke the license."
Lawton, who maintained she has tried to run a clean bar all along, said she was "glad its done." She will consider filing a countersuit against the city, Christiansen and Summit County for $2 million in damages.
But meanwhile she said she is "watching customers a lot more closely " and has beefed up staff to double what it was to try to keep drugs out of the bars.
"Basically we can now get down to the business of running clean bars instead of trying to deal with court cases, " she said.