Ruling Expected On Elks Lodge Suit For Liquor License

April 12, 1992|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

A county judge says he will rule this week on an all-male Annapolis Elks lodge's challenge to a city law denying liquor licenses to clubswhose bylaws forbid female members.

Judge James C. Cawood Jr. said he had hoped to rule immediately after hearing arguments from lawyers for the private club and the Annapolis government Friday in countyCircuit Court.

But the judge said he would explore points raised in those arguments before deciding the case.

Elks Lodge 622 filed suit last September, contending the law is unconstitutional because the city lacks the authority to base liquor license eligibility on a private club's membership criteria. The 1990 law denies liquor licenses to private clubs whose bylaws discriminate on the basis of race, sex or ethnic background.

While more than a dozen lodge members watched, attorney Ronald G. Dawson told the court that the law does not allow the city to use its control over liquor licenses to punish behavior the City Council finds "politically incorrect."

He also said the club's membership criteria have nothing to do with the operation of its cocktail lounge.

"It is not a classic stag bar," Dawson said, explaining that the Elks club lounge is open to women guests and members of the club's women's auxiliary.

Dawson also argued that the state's "public accommodations law," which exempts private clubs, takes priority over the city's law.

Annapolis City Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson said state code grants the municipality the power to attach "reasonable"conditions to the granting of liquor licenses and that the exemptionin the state public accommodation law does not conflict with the Annapolis law.

Judge Cawood said he would rule this week because the Elks club's liquor license expires at the end of this month. City officials have cited the 1990 law in saying a renewal would not be granted.

The 1,500-member lodge's decision to sue came after its leaders failed last year to persuade the Elks' national leadership to allowa bylaw change to allow the club to admit women as members. Individual lodges cannot change their bylaws.

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