PORTLAND – As police work to curb late-night rowdiness in the Old Port, they say one bar remains a problem despite several orders for it to shut down over the past year and a half.

The City Council voted against renewing the Cactus Club’s liquor license on Feb.18, 2009, citing a series of public safety issues and violations of state liquor laws. The bar has filed numerous appeals since then, and remains in business a year and a half after its license lapsed.

“Very rarely does the bar prevail in any of these appeals, and yet they’re still allowed to operate while under appeal, and that appeal process takes months at every level,” said police Cmdr. Vern Malloch. “It shows a weakness in the system if it takes this long to close a bar.”

The Cactus Club’s attorney says the liquor license should be reinstated because the city took too long making its original decision and considered information it shouldn’t have considered.

Now the dispute is nearing its end in the state’s highest court.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has put the issue on an expedited schedule, requiring legal briefs to be submitted by Friday and oral arguments to be held June 15.

The bar’s lawyer, David Turesky, is adamant that his client has a good case and should prevail.

The bar at 416 Fore St. is owned by Thomas Manning, whose history as a tavern owner in Portland is mixed.

Some of his bars, including previous ones at 416 Fore St., have been virtually problem-free and had their licenses renewed easily.

He also owned Liquid Blue/Diggers and Metropolis, two bars whose liquor licenses were not renewed by the City Council.

The Cactus Club is a hot spot in Portland’s premier entertainment district, but it has had its share of troubles.

Police said in 2008 that officers frequently visited the bar to address problems, and that the bar was caught serving minors during two stings.

“We have continued to have problems at the Cactus Club,” Malloch said. “There have been several liquor license violations there, most recently in March, when two women were overserved, one intoxicated to the point where she had to be transported by ambulance to the hospital for treatment.”

State law says a city or town must act on renewing a license application within 120 days of its filing.

The city maintains that it did, with the council voting on Feb. 18, 2009. However, the written decision was not given to the bar or the state until several days after the 120-day window.

The council relied on police reports in which the names of people involved had been blacked out. The bar says such incomplete reports made it unable to investigate them fully and respond.

After the council’s denial, the Cactus Club appealed to the state Department of Public Safety, which held a hearing in August. The appeal was denied and the bar appealed to Maine District Court. That, too, was denied.

The bar appealed to the state Supreme Court last month and got the court to issue a stay enabling the bar to keep operating.

The court has moved swiftly. While many cases can take several months to be heard, the court scheduled this one within weeks.

It isn’t unusual for a bar to appeal a denial of its liquor license, but this is probably the first to get a hearing before the Supreme Court, said Portland’s city attorney, Gary Wood.

The court’s decision should be final, said Wood, who doubts the federal court system would have much interest in the case.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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