Liquor to start flowing again on The Block today

January 18, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Show bars on The Block will be able to resume serving liquor today under an agreement reached yesterday between tavern owners and authorities who seized liquor licenses during Friday's raid in Baltimore's red-light district.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Ellen M. Heller signed an order approving the settlement, which allows bar owners to sell liquor after obtaining copies of their licenses from the city liquor board. Prosecutors will retain the original documents as evidence in pending criminal trials.

The settlement came after lawyers for more than 20 bar owners filed motions yesterday demanding the return of the licenses seized by state police during the raid. Robert B. Schulman, a lawyer representing most of the businesses, said bar owners were eager to reopen after a dry weekend that cost them thousands of dollars.

Efforts to obtain the copies to allow the bars to open last night were unsuccessful, Mr. Schulman said. "I think everybody's going to wait until tomorrow morning," he said.

But the Stage Door Bar on Commerce Street was open last night, according to Central District police.

Liquor licenses were confiscated at 24 nightclubs Friday when approximately 500 state troopers -- nearly a third of the force -- descended on the adult entertainment district. Fifty-two arrests were made on prostitution, gambling and drug distribution charges, and police seized cash, video machines and business records.

Eighteen bar owners joined together to file court papers yesterday seeking the return of their licenses. One bar owner filed his own suit, and two others raised similar, oral motions at a court hearing.

The 18 allied bar owners charged in court papers that the raid was "politically motivated" and "merely the latest and most blatant assault against the Block by the City of Baltimore in yet another transparent attempt to achieve its ultimate goal -- the extinction of the Block."

After appearing in court, however, Mr. Schulman was claiming victory and softening his tone, saying: "We're not in a position to say the raid is part of the grand plan yet."

A court fight over the seized licenses was averted when lawyers for the city state's attorney's office and the state police agreed that the bar owners could obtain duplicate licenses for $1 apiece under a section of state law that addresses lost or destroyed business licenses.

Howard Gersh, head of the narcotics unit in the city state's attorney's office, insisted that authorities had the right to retain the seized licenses as evidence because they show "domain and control" of establishments that were allegedly the scene of drug activity.

"We want the original documents," Mr. Gersh said.

Mr. Gersh said the bars conceded that the licenses were legally seized, but Mr. Schulman disagreed. Both in court and out, Mr. Schulman argued that liquor licenses were not specifically named in search warrants.

In papers filed yesterday on behalf of the 18 bars, Mr. Schulman linked the raid to pending litigation challenging the constitutionality of a city law enacted last year to regulate adult entertainment businesses on The Block.

The law requires owners of adult entertainment businesses to obtain a new type of license from the city housing department and to operate only between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. It also would restrict "barkers" that station themselves outside of the businesses' open doors.

City officials have vowed to uphold the law. A trial on the suit is scheduled for next September.

The Block, quiet throughout the weekend, remained so yesterday as most bars appeared to be closed. Whether they would open last night remained in doubt; Mr. Schulman said he was unsuccessful in his attempt to meet with liquor board officials to see whether bar owners could obtain the license copies after hours or, as an alternative, post copies of the court order.

Efforts to reach Aaron L. Stansbury, executive secretary of the city liquor board, were unsuccessful last night.

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