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LAWYER: STORE FACES ‘DEATH PENALTY’

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Red Bank’s legal offensive against the controversial Best Liquors store on Leighton Avenue is the economic equivalent of a ‘death penalty’ case, its lawyer argued Thursday night at the conclusion of a three-hour hearing.

The session wrapped up at about 10p without a decision by the Borough Council, which is sitting in judgment. The council instead opted to adjourn until next Thursday at 4p, when it is expected to rule on whether the store’s record of illicit booze and cigarette sales to minors merits action. Download best_liquors_charges_and_specifications.pdf

If so, the penalties, if any, could be as severe as a revocation of the store’s license to sell liquor, Mayor Pasquale Menna said earlier this week.

That possible fate is not lost on either Sunny Sharma, who owns the store, or his lawyer, Samuel ‘Skip’ Reale Jr., who ripped the case made against the store by Borough Attorney Tom Hall.

Reale said Hall was relying on “second- and third-hand hearsay” in an effort to shut the store down.

“Hall is basically asking for the death penalty,” Reale said in a summation to the council. “Is the evidence you’ve heard the type of evidence you’d want somebody to use in determing whether your business should continue or not?”

Hall, in reponse, said Sharma and a store employee had already admitted to most of the underlying municipal court charges that gave rise to the license case. And to the extent that there was hearsay testimony, that is permitted in such cases, he said.

As an administrative matter, Hall has to prove his case by a preponderance of the evidence, not the “beyond a reasonable doubt” threshhold of criminal cases. And he’d done so, he said, through the testimony from police and underaged patrons of the store, including a Middletown woman who admitted buying liquor at Best Liquors last summer, when she was 19. She pleaded guilty in municipal court and paid a $500 fine.

“Everyone know this liqour store is the best game in town,” Hall told the council. “The whole world knows if you’re underage, you can get liquor at Best Liquors.”

Reale didn’t present any witnesses on behalf of the store, and council members didn’t ask questions.

At the end, council members Grace Cangemi and Michael DuPont argued that the governing body should immediately deliberate, while the testimony was still fresh in their minds. But Mayor Pasquale Menna said that wasn’t a good idea.

Afterward, enroute to a closed-door executive session, Menna told redbankgreen that the matter was too important to decide hastily, because both someone’s livelihood and the quality of life of a neighborhood were at issue.

Menna doesn’t have a vote except in the case of a tie.

The hearing ran about an hour longer than expected, though it was interrupted by a half-hour break. More onlookers came out to watch than at the the first of the two hearings, but began filtering out after two hours.

Most of the hearing involved testimony by a Patrolman Beau Broadley, who arrested a 15-year-old and an 18-year-old after they bought so much liquor they had to make to two trips into the store to carry it all out, he said.

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