It’s crunch time, finally, in the long-delayed effort by Pankaj ‘Sunny’ Sharma to save his West Side liquor store from a shutdown over a handful of violations involving sales to minors and other offenses.

Last June, the Red Bank Borough Council, after a trial-like hearing, voted to yank the retail distribution license of Best Liquors, on Leighton Avenue.

The council hearing followed five municipal court cases involving sales of alcohol to minors; sale of untaxed cigarettes; and employing a person not registered with the borough. Sharma or his agents were either found guilty of or pleaded guilty to all the charges.

Tomorrow, Sharma’s appeal of that decision is scheduled to be heard by a state administrative law judge assigned to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division in Mercerville, near Trenton.

Borough Attorney Tom Hall says his goal is simple: “I want the mayor and council’s resolution revoking the license to be upheld.”

This won’t be a retrial of the municipal court cases against Sharma nor a repeat of the council’s hearings, conducted over several days last May and June.

Instead, Judge Joseph F. Martone will rely on transcripts of the council hearings, says Hall, who persuaded the court to do so after arguing that full re-hearings would be a waste of time and would “engender cynicism and disrespect for the judicial system” by the public.

From court papers submitted by Hall regarding the council hearings:

All of that time and expense would be wasted, and the taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill a second time, if all of the same witnesses, who were already cross-examined, were required to travel across the state only to repeat their prior sworn testimony before this Court. It would be a colossal waste of judicial
and law enforcement resources to have the police and civilian witnesses make this journey only to parrot their prior testimony.

The one exception: a case involving the alleged sale of alcohol to a minor who was away in the Navy and unavailable to testify at the time of the council hearings. A hearing on that charge may be heard, Hall says.

The burden of proof is on Sharma’s lawyer, Samuel “Skip” Reale Jr. a former ABC director, to show that the council decision was unwarranted and that the revocation was unreasonable.

The hearing could last most of the day, we’re told, and may not yield an immediate decision. It’s scheduled to begin at 9a at the Office of Administrative Law, 9 Quakerbridge Plaza, Mercerville. Here are travel directions.

Martone’s decision will be sent to ABC director Jerry Fisher, who can accept or reject it.

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