Restaurateur appeals claims judge had interest in ruling on closing hours

September 15, 1994|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Sun Staff Writer

The owner of an Annapolis crab house has asked the Court of Special Appeals to throw out a ruling that limits his restaurant's hours, saying the judge in the case had a financial interest in the outcome.

Harvey Blonder, owner of Buddy's Crabs and Ribs on Main Street, alleges that Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner should have referred his case to another judge rather than ruling that the restaurant, bar and dance hall must close at midnight.

Mr. Blonder won a special exception from the Annapolis City Council on July 12, 1993, that allowed him to stay open until 2 a.m.

But that decision was appealed to the Circuit Court by the restaurant's residential neighbors, who expressed concerns about added noise, trash and disorderly conduct incidents that might be generated by later hours.

Judge Lerner ruled in favor of the neighbors June 10.

But in a petition filed Tuesday with the Court of Special Appeals, Mr. Blonder's lawyers argued that because Judge Lerner owns four rental properties within 200 feet of the restaurant, he had a financial interest in Buddy's operating hours and should not have decided the matter.

In ruling against the restaurant's bid for a 2 a.m. closing time, Judge Lerner "abused his discretion," the appeal says.

"Judge Lerner was incapable of rendering an impartial and unbiased decision in this matter," the appeal says.

Judge Lerner said yesterday that Mr. Blonder knew he owned the properties when the case was assigned to him last spring because Mr. Blonder notified him, along with everyone else who owned property within 200 feet, of his plans to apply for the special exception.

The judge also said that in a July 8, 1993, case, he decided in favor of Buddy's, ruling that the restaurant needed only a 5-4 approval for its special exception from the City Council rather than a 7-2 vote.

"Now, does he want me to vacate that decision, too?" Judge Lerner said.

Paul Garvey Goetzke, city attorney, said Mr. Blonder should have raised his objections when the case was heard last spring. "To me this just seems like some last-minute issues that Buddy's is trying to grasp."

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