On Tuesday, May 6, employees of Lake Dillon Tavern were found not guilty on six of seven counts of alleged violations of the Colorado Liquor Code following a lengthy hearing before the Liquor Licensing Authority in Dillon.
Managing partner Brendan Thelan appeared with Breckenridge attorney Sanam Mehrnia on behalf of Lake Dillon Tavern. Kristin Brown served as a special prosecutor for the hearing.
More than 30 Lake Dillon Tavern supporters also attended the hearing.
Lake Dillon Tavern faced two counts of serving alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person, two counts of permitting the service of alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person, one count of serving alcohol to a person under the age of 21, one count of knowingly permitting acts of disorderly conduct and one count of permitting activity offensive to the senses of an average person.
However, by the end of the hearing, which encompassed more than three hours of witness testimony and private and public deliberations, the Liquor Licensing Authority unanimously found Lake Dillon Tavern guilty of one count of serving alcohol to a person under the age of 21. The bar was found not guilty on all other counts.
In Dillon, as in many small towns, the town council also serves as the local liquor licensing authority. The guilty verdict was handed down by a vote of 6-0. Councilwoman Terry King was absent from Tuesday’s hearing.
During her closing arguments, Mehrnia scolded the liquor board for permitting the case to go to a hearing in the first place, saying it was former town manager Joe Wray and former interim police chief Brian Brady who voiced the greatest support for trying Lake Dillon Tavern before the licensing authority during a January town council meeting.
Brady resigned in February amid a perjury investigation. Wray resigned for unknown reasons a few days later.
In preparing her defense, Mehrnia said she requested records about the departures of Wray and Brady from Dillon attorney Mark Shapiro. Shapiro not only denied Mehrnia access to those records, but also criticized her lack of legal expertise, the attorney said during the hearing.
Due to the lack of discovery, Mehrnia did not prepare an opening statement or an argument, and said she was not allowed to question the special prosecutor’s witnesses prior to the hearing.
“I know I’m a young attorney and I know practicing for five years is not a long time in the legal world,” Mehrnia said during closing arguments. “But, you don’t need a law degree to know those records would have been relevant to this case.”
Although satisfied with the end result of the proceedings, Mehrnia delivered more choice words for the town of Dillon and Shapiro in a prepared statement issued Wednesday, May 7, in which she again raised issue with being prohibited from inspecting public documents.
“But, what was even more troublesome was the efforts of the town attorney and the town’s hired special prosecutor to prosecute this case in a no-holds-barred, scorched-earth method without any consideration to the fact that Lake Dillon Tavern requested to work with the town and the police department to have and be a cooperative and contributing business in Dillon,” Mehrnia said in the statement. “Seems to be a tremendous waste of resources and negative energy to go against a business that sought to make positive changes and was, and is, willing to cooperate with the town.”
The charges against Lake Dillon Tavern stemmed from an incident on Nov. 25, 2013, in which two men were arrested for allegedly being involved in a fight at the bar. The two men, Summit County residents and brothers William Enrique Martinez and Alexander Martinez-Orellano, reportedly were visibly intoxicated when Dillon and Silverthorne police officers responded to a call about the fight, according to police records.
Both men were witnessed drinking beer at the Lake Dillon Tavern in the hours before the fight, according to statements given to law enforcement officers. Martinez-Orellano was of legal drinking age at the time of the incident, but Martinez was 12 days removed from his 21st birthday, according to police records. It is unclear whether any Lake Dillon Tavern employees checked his identification before allegedly serving him alcohol.
In prosecuting the case, Brown relied heavily on police reports and police officer testimony to show William and Alexander Martinez’s perceived intoxication and violence was a direct result of being over-served by Lake Dillon Tavern employees.
However, reports stated police officers first made contact with the Martinez brothers in the middle of La Bonte Street, after the sparring parties had already been separated.
Despite not preparing a defense, Mehrnia repeatedly pointed out that none of the officers actually observed the Martinez brothers inside the bar, let alone being served alcohol by employees of Lake Dillon Tavern. She further argued statements made to officers that the brothers were served alcohol at Lake Dillon Tavern were based entirely on hearsay evidence.
For the most part, the liquor licensing authority agreed.
“I wasn’t comfortable imposing penalties on all of the charges when the evidence didn’t prove the alleged violations actually took place inside the bar,” said Councilman Mark Nickel after the hearing. “The testimony from the witnesses was largely based on what happened after the fact, when the police officers arrived on the scene.”
For the conviction of serving alcohol to a person under the age of 21, the Liquor Licensing Authority imposed a 10-day suspension of Lake Dillon Tavern’s liquor license, one-year of probation and also is requiring that all employees undergo Tips training.
Five of those 10 days were ordered to be served in abeyance, which means they will be added to a future punishment, should Lake Dillon Tavern be found guilty of a Colorado Liquor Code violation during its one-year probationary period.
The remaining five days must be served consecutively and because the incident took place on a Sunday, one of those five suspension days must also be served on a Sunday, in accordance with Colorado Revised Statutes.
The final order will be presented and voted on during the town council’s May 20 meeting. Lake Dillon Tavern will then have 30 days to appeal or comply with the suspension.