Stockbridge — A popular Elm Street bar and grill is serving a 12-day liquor license suspension under a decision reached Monday night by the Stockbridge Board of Selectmen. But not before a lengthy discussion about the hardship the offending bar owner will face if deprived of the right to sell alcohol.
The 2-0 decision was supported by Selectman Steve Shatz and Chairman Chuck Cardillo, while Don Chabon abstained after making an unorthodox alternative proposal that would have required the owner of Michael’s Restaurant and Pub to invest money to improve his property in exchange for lifting the penalty.
“This is a very serious matter,” Shatz said in arguing for the suspension. “Lying to law enforcement is a serious matter.”
Earlier this month, the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC), after hearing an appeal in September, upheld 37 days of an earlier decision by the selectmen to suspend owner Michael G. Abdalla’s liquor license for a combined 50 days. The Board of Selectmen later opted not to appeal the ABCC decision.
Abdalla was indicted in October in Berkshire Superior Court for allegedly misleading the police who were investigating the death of a customer, by attempting to destroy videotape evidence from the restaurant that Great Barrington police had sought during the motor vehicle homicide investigation stemming from a fatal auto accident.
According to Great Barrington Police, the video showed an underage occupant of the ill-fated SUV being served alcohol. In a plea deal worked out with the court, Judge John Agostini essentially allowed Abdalla to remain free and serve the equivalent of two years probation.
The deadly crash on East Street in Great Barrington in the early-morning hours of April 4, 2015, killed Garrett J. Norton, 21, of Housatonic and seriously injured another passenger, Matthew A. Moriarty, a 20-year old from Great Barrington.
The driver, Stockbridge resident Kyle Bailey, 22, survived and told police he and his friends had been drinking earlier at Michael’s. Bailey is serving a four-year sentence for vehicular homicide and related charges.
The selectmen subsequently gave Abdalla a 30-day liquor license suspension that won’t be imposed for 60 days to give time for an appeal process, and to begin after the first two 10-day suspensions each for the violations of serving to a minor and to an intoxicated person.
Before the selectmen discussed and voted on the suspension, both Abdalla’s lawyer and his wife spoke in his defense. Attorney Mark Tanner tried to minimize Abdalla’s actions, while at the same time acknowledging that, “It was a fleeting moment of stupidity on my client’s part.”
But Shatz, himself an attorney, countered that Abdalla’s actions were substantially more than flights of fancy.
“This was purposeful; it happened not in one moment,” Shatz said. “It happened when the evidence was destroyed and in a subsequent meeting with Great Barrington police officers. It happened over an extended period of time.”
In almost 10 minutes of defense, Tanner went through a lengthy list of what he said were mitigating circumstances. He insisted that in its 30-plus years of operation, Michael’s had only been cited twice for alcohol violations: once for servicing a minor whom “the ABCC had sent into the bar” and another time in the 1980s for “improperly storing some bottles of alcohol in a building that they own next door.”
However, for the 24 months leading up to the end of March 2015, Michael’s had two so-called 24J notices, according to public records. Drivers who are arrested and convicted for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol in the state of Massachusetts are asked both at the scene of the stop and just before sentencing where they had their last drink.
Of the convicted who name an establishment as the “place of last drink,” as the ABCC calls it, the commission receives 24J reports, so named after the law mandating them, listing the identity and location of the establishment that served the impaired customer.
Leading the pack among Great Barrington establishments during that same two-year period of time was Bogie’s Steak and Ale with nine 24J reports. Bogie’s is also owned by the Abdalla family.
Tanner also said the Abdallas are good corporate citizens who support local charities and fundraising efforts. Abdalla’s wife Kelly also presented letters of support attesting to her husband’s “moral character” from the Lenox Baseball Booster Club and a Lee couple involved in fundraising events for that community.
Mrs. Abdalla also cited her husband’s record of cooperation with Stockbridge Police on other matters, including a recent disturbance in a nearby parking lot in which her husband shared video footage of the disturbance with authorities.
Tanner also cited the loss of business that even a relatively brief suspension of the liquor license would cause the Abdalla’s and the “20 to 30 people who depend on Michael’s being open to pay their bills and to feed their families.”
Shatz replied that, “Perhaps that’s something the license holder should have considered before taking that kind of action.”
Shatz had finally had enough. He called for a vote on his motion to impose the suspension. Since 20 days of the 37-day suspension have already been served, Shatz proposed a 17-day suspension, effective immediately, with five days “held in abeyance” for two years. If there are violations during that period, then the five days would be added on.
The motion passed 2-0, with Chabon abstaining. The suspension is effective immediately.