It’s finally on. Four months later than expected, the Borough Council will hold a trial-like hearing Tuesday night to determine the fate of involving Best Liquors, Sunny Sharma’s packaged-goods store that last year became a lightning rod for quality-of-life complaints by its Leighton Avenue neighbors.
At issue: a 38-page raft of charges and evidence involving the sale of loose cigarettes and liquor to minors, all of which have been adjudicated in municipal court with either guilty pleas or convictions (though one of the convictions has been appealed to Superior Court.) Download best_liquors_charges_and_specifications.pdf
The defense: that after several acknowledged lapses, the business has cleaned up its act regarding liquor and booze sales and has done everything possible to ensure that loitering, noise and littering don’t occur on its corner, at Catherine Street.
Potential outcome: the temporary or even permanent lifting of the store’s liquor license.
According to Samuel ‘Skip’ Reale, attorney for Sharma and the store, the matter is administrative, not criminal or even a civil case in which fines could be imposed. Borough Attorney Tom Hall, who will prosecute the case, declined Tuesday to disclose what remedy the borough would seek if Best Liquors is found to have violated the terms of its license.
Complaints about the store became an issue in the closing weeks of last year’s mayoral and council races, and immediately after the election, the council moved to hold its hearing. But year-end council business, a change in attorney for Sharma and other events caused the hearing to be continually postponed, Hall said.
The municipal court actions “basically simplified the case we’ll present,” Hall said.
The hearing, which was originally expected to last about four hours, begins at 5p. in the council chambers. Hall said it could be concluded in one session. Reale, though, said the findings of the council could be appealed to the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and from there to the state Appellate Court. It’s not uncommon, he said, for such cases to take up to two years to wend their way to conclusion.
And it may be an interesting show. We asked Reale how a council that had openly discussed resident’s complaints against the business could be expected to hear the matter impartially.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some discussion about that on the record Tuesday,” he said. He declined to elaborate.
A South Jersey lawyer who was once a state Deputy Attorney General in the organized crime and racketeering bureau. Reale is also a partner to John F. Vassallo, a former director of the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
We stopped by Best Liquors Tuesday, and Sharma expressed confidence in the outcome. “We’ll see what happens, but I’m not nervous at all,” he said, noting steps he’s taken since last summer address the concerns of neighbors and the police.
“I did the best I can,” he said. “The place is 100-percent better. It’s much cleaner. No one hangs out at all, there have been no fights.”
Via email, redbankgreen asked Krishna and John Tyler of Leighton Avenue what the situation has been like in recent months. Their reply:
Of course, its the same. The weather is getting nicer. You see people
still drinking right outside the liquor store, We have been calling the cops
sometimes twice a day. There will never be a solution to this problem until
the liqour store is gone forever.