Michael's Restaurant appeals suspension of liquor license


STOCKBRIDGE >> Attorneys for Michael's Restaurant have appealed the Select Board's three-part, 50-day liquor license suspension to the state's Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

Two consecutive 10-day suspensions began on April 29, two days after the Select Board's action, and will expire Tuesday. The ABCC is not expected to rule until the end of this month or early June. The restaurant remains open but cannot serve alcohol during the suspension.

"We believe we have a solid basis to appeal the three citations," said attorney Mark Tanner of Bacon/Wilson, a long-established firm with offices in Springfield, Amherst, Northampton and Westfield.

Anticipating an appeal, the Selectmen postponed the third and harshest penalty, a 30-day suspension, until the end of June, plenty of time for a ruling from the state commission.

Tanner, describing the 50-day penalty as "unduly harsh according to the town's own guidelines," explained that the ABCC will conduct a full hearing on the merits of the appeal, including testimony from attorneys, owner Michael G. Abdalla, Jr., and witnesses. He described it as "similar to a trial, but much less formal."

"The ABCC's job is to enforce the laws, their understanding of those laws is more substantial that local boards, and they rule on the merits of the case," Tanner added. "We look forward to the outcome."

At a public hearing on April 27, the Select Board voted to approve the three-phase suspension in connection with an April 4, 2015, car accident that took the life of a passenger, Garrett J. Norton, 21, of Housatonic.

The driver, Kyle Bailey, 22, of Stockbridge smashed his SUV into a utility pole in Great Barrington about 17 minutes after leaving the restaurant, according to video surveillance at the restaurant and police reports at the scene.

He is serving four years at the Berkshire House of Correction for vehicle homicide, operating under the influence and related charges. His blood alcohol level registered 0.17, more than double the legal maximum of 0.08.

At the end of the two-hour Select Board hearing, members voted 3-0 for the first 10-day suspension, determining that Michael's had served alcohol to a minor, Matthew Moriarty, 20, of Great Barrington. Also a passenger in Bailey's vehicle, he was severely injured in the accident.

For serving to Bailey, an intoxicated patron, the board voted 2-1 for an additional 10-day suspension.

The third and most severe punishment, a 30-day liquor-license suspension, was approved 3-0. The board agreed with the Great Barrington police and a finding by Berkshire Superior Court Judge John Agostini last March that Abdalla had misled the town's investigating officer by claiming that he had mistakenly erased a key portion of the video surveillance recording following the night of the accident.

A forensics unit managed to restore the deleted recording before the court hearing. The Selectmen determined that Abdalla had attempted to cover up and destroy the evidence on the tape.

Following a plea bargain in which Abdalla, 54, of Lee, admitted to facts sufficient to find him guilty of misleading a police officer, Agostini imposed a "continued without a finding" sentence of two years on probation, including a $5,000 donation to a local charity. Abdalla admitted he failed to provide video evidence to police during their investigation.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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