By Linda G. Rastelli
In a hearing characterized by polite sparring between lawyers, the Red Bank borough council sat through nearly four hours of testimony in the case against Sunny Sharma and Best Liquors without a decision Tuesday night.
No date was set for a resumption of the hearing, in which the council is sitting in judgment. Mayor Pasquale Menna said he hoped the next installment could be scheduled within 30 days.
Testimony was taken from four witnesses for the borough: a 20-year old Middletown woman who was arrested for illegally buying beer from Best Liquors last year and three police officers involved in arrests or investigations centering on the store at Leighton Avenue and Catherine Street.
As previously hinted at, Sharma’s lawyer, Samuel ‘Skip’ Reale challenged the premise of the council sitting in judgment after exposure to numerous citizen complaints and calls by residents that the store be shut down as a chronic nuisance to its West Side neighbors.
Reale asked that the case be kicked up to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control commission.
“You’re not able to really divorce yourselves from the media accounts and allegations from the residents,” Reale told the council in his opening remarks. His objection was noted and the matter went forward.
Reale has not yet had a chance to put up his case. He said he may call “up to three witnesses, if I call any.”
The case is an administrative matter involving allegations that Sharma violated the terms of his license, not a criminal case. Sharma and a store employee have, however, pleaded guilty in municipal court to some of the violations that serve as the foundation of the borough’s action. One potential outcome is that Sharma could lose his license to sell liquor. (Download best_liquors_charges_and_specifications.pdf)
Perhaps because it began at 5p and was expected to run for hours, the hearing was sparsely attended. Among the spectators were Amy Goldsmith of the Westside Community Group and John Tyler, a homeowner who has been one of the most vocal critics of the store.
The hearing, though, was short on courtroom drama, and was instead dominated by lawyerly civility. At one point, following a five-minute consultation with Reale, borough attorney Tom Hall agreed to allow Sharma’s girlfriend back into the council chambers so she would have a place to sit comfortably.
The woman, whose name was not disclosed, had been asked to step into the hallway at the outset of the hearing because she is a potential character witness for Sharma. There are no chairs in the hallway.
After the session wrapped up, redbankgreen asked Reale if he thought he was being treated fairly. “I’m not going to talk about it,” he said. But he did say he would appeal if the council’s ruling was adverse to his client.
Sharma declined comment.