A judge has ruled that Westbrook City Councilor Dorothy Aube was biased when she voted last year against granting licenses to the Skybox Bar and Grill.

The council is set to decide on April 5 whether to grant the owners the licenses it denied twice last year.

David A. Lourie, the lawyer for Skybox owners Allen and Lynn Moore, said they were denied their request for an injunction to prevent Aube from voting on the licenses. But he said that if Aube’s vote produces a tie or a majority vote to deny the licenses, the Moores will have grounds to appeal.

“As far as we know, she is still biased,” Lourie said. “The decision doesn’t give us everything in the case, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction for the city to do the right thing and give them their permits.”

Allen Moore said the decision brings him a bit of hope in his battle with the city.

“I needed that,” he said. “I’m a little anxious about our license renewal. I feel we deserve all our licenses just like every other drinking establishment in town.”

The dispute dates to April 6 last year, when then-Mayor Bruce Chuluda and the City Council voted against renewing the Skybox’s food sales license, saying the business would be a “nuisance” in the mostly residential Frenchtown neighborhood.

Without a food license, the bar couldn’t have a liquor license, so the vote meant the Skybox would have to close when its food license expired at the end of the month.

The Moores sued the city and asked a judge for an injunction to allow the Skybox to stay open. City officials agreed to let the bar keep running while the issue was being decided in court.

Aube was one of four city councilors who voted against the license renewal on April 6. Council President Brendan Rielly, Councilor John O’Hara and Councilor Drew Gattine joined the opposition.

On May 4, the council denied the licenses again on a 4-4 vote.

Justice Robert Crowley’s decision, issued Tuesday in Cumberland County Superior Court, said Aube’s statements during the public hearings on the licenses were biased and she should not have voted.

At the hearing April 6, Aube said, “I live in that neighborhood. I don’t think a bar belongs in this neighborhood. I know it (has) been there a long time. I just don’t believe it belongs and that’s why I voted the way I did and will continue to do so.”

On May 4, Aube responded to Lourie’s statement that the four councilors who voted against the licenses had closed minds and should have recused themselves from voting if they couldn’t be impartial.

“My thought when I was running for council (was) that I was elected to represent the people in my ward,” Aube said. “I feel that I’m doing what the people want me to do. If they don’t like it, they won’t elect me next time.”

In his decision, Crowley wrote, “These statements indicate that Aube prejudged issues of fact before considering Moore’s application and that she ignored her duty as a quasi-judicial decision maker.”

Aube did not return calls seeking comment.

Rielly and O’Hara have been sharp critics of the Skybox and have consistently opposed granting its licenses. During the April 6 public hearing, O’Hara said the Skybox is a “detriment to the neighborhood.”

O’Hara said Thursday that the council will do what is necessary to protect neighborhoods in the city. “This establishment being in that area in town certainly raises concerns,” he said.

Mayor Colleen Hilton will hear the issue for the first time at the meeting on April 5. She said Aube’s vote will count because she lives in the neighborhood and represents its residents.

Hilton said she will research the issue and weigh recommendations from the police department before making a decision. She also plans to visit the bar.

“I will give (Moore) a shot,” Hilton said. “If they are running a good business and have taken care of the problems, it will influence how I vote.”

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

[email protected]