Restaurant is sued over smoking law County takes action against Clyde's, alleging violations

Statute may be challenged

Lawsuit says patrons allowed to smoke in unenclosed area

February 27, 1997|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Erin Texeira contributed to this article.

Howard County yesterday sued Clyde's restaurant -- alleging the Columbia landmark essentially flouts the state's toughest anti-smoking law.

According to the 10-count lawsuit filed in county Circuit Court, the restaurant's management allows patrons to smoke in areas that are not sealed off from other customers.

The county is seeking a temporary injunction that would force Clyde's to ban all smoking until the restaurant seals off and ventilates a smoking area.

"We have a law on the books," said County Administrator Raquel Sanudo. "We need to move forward."

The law, which went into effect Jan. 1, is considered among the strictest on the East Coast. County officials say they expect Clyde's to respond by asking the court to throw out the law.

"The war is going to be fought on the validity of the issue, not what they're doing" specifically, said F. Todd Taylor, senior assistant county solicitor.

Clyde's manager, Anthony Moynaugh, declined yesterday to comment on the lawsuit. But the restaurant's attorney, Bruce Bereano, said the restaurant has done nothing wrong.

"They are in compliance with the law, as it has been interpreted," Bereano said.

Howard's new law is intended to prohibit smoking in restaurants, except in sealed-off, separately ventilated rooms.

Most of the county's 300 restaurants have eliminated smoking, but about a dozen have spent thousands of dollars outfitting separate bar rooms for smoking. Some restaurants have put dining tables in these rooms.

But Clyde's has not sealed off its smoking area. One of the restaurant's hostesses yesterday could be overheard asking patrons if they wanted to sit in nonsmoking or smoking sections -- the smoking section being at or near the bar.

Inspections

According to the lawsuit, Howard County police officers inspected Clyde's six times in January, and each time "they observed patrons smoking at the bar."

The six inspections led to 30 alleged violations by the bar or its manager, cited in yesterday's lawsuit. Each violation carries a fine of $100 to $250.

Last fall, Clyde's officials had said they were planning to erect partitions to seal off the bar, but they said doing so would cost as much as $100,000. County officials now believe the restaurant's owners have no intention of erecting such smoke barriers, according to the lawsuit.

One of Columbia Town Center's most popular restaurants, Clyde's has sat by Lake Kittamaqundi for more than 20 years, said Bereano, Clyde's attorney.

He declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit. But he said installing floor to ceiling partitions would destroy Clyde's character.

'Health police'

Bereano blamed anti-smoking advocates -- he calls them "health police" -- for pressuring county politicians to pass the law. He said Clyde's managers "have not gotten any complaints from their customers -- regular, repeat customers who like the restaurant the way it is."

But two patrons interviewed yesterday on their way into Clyde's said smoking at the restaurant bothered them.

"We almost didn't come here because [my husband] has upper respiratory problems," said Susan Hoyson of Columbia's Dorsey's Search village. "We usually try to get here early before the smoke gets too bad."

She asked for a table farthest from the bar.

"These charges are absolutely appropriate," said Neal Hoyson. "They really need a separate room for the smokers."

L Another patron was pleased to hear about the county lawsuit.

Early yesterday evening, only a few patrons sat at the bar, and none appeared to be smoking. But, customers said, the air later in the evening would be thick with smoke.

Other efforts

County officials would not comment on other possible anti-smoking investigations.

Bill Thies, a top aide to County Executive Charles I. Ecker, said county officials wanted to concentrate their initial efforts on one lawsuit, so that the law can withstand a court challenge.

Taylor, the county attorney, said it is possible to pursue criminal charges under the law. But he intends to enforce the law through civil actions.

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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