Voltage Nightclub had its liquor license revoked last Thursday by the Baltimore City Liquor Board, but it was temporarily reinstated by the Baltimore City Circuit Court just in time for Friday night.
On Thursday afternoon, Stephan Fogleman, chairman of the Liquor Board’s three-member panel that decides on liquor licenses, used a quote by the musician Morrissey to announce the decision to revoke:
“Has the world changed, or have I changed?”
Louis Principio III—owner of Voltage and holder of its liquor license with Dudley Taylor and Martin Manescu—is a former owner of Hammerjack’s, the legendary 1980s metal venue. In a lengthy final statement to the Liquor Board, Principio mentioned, among other things, that altercations were far worse at Hammerjack’s than they ever were at Voltage.
Fogleman said that he didn’t believe that Principio had changed then, but that the world has changed. Fogleman acknowledged that incidents that occurred at Voltage, particularly in November of last year, including a dance-floor shooting and some large fights in the parking lot in which police officers were maced, “may have been acceptable—the police and the Liquor Board may have had less of a problem with those issues 20 years ago.”
However, the chairman said, they are not acceptable now.
“We believe that the public safety of Baltimore requires this license to be revoked,” he said, adding that the club had 30 days to appeal the decision.
Within a few hours of the Liquor Board’s decision, Voltage had posted on its Facebook page that it would be closed the night of Thursday, March 13, by order of the Baltimore City Liquor Board, but that it would be open and serving alcohol on Friday evening, March 14.
On Friday afternoon, Judge Alfred Nance of Baltimore City Circuit Court heard and granted Principio’s request for a stay on the Liquor Board’s decision to revoke his license. The stay allows Voltage to remain open until Circuit Court hears the club’s appeal of the revocation of its license.
Fogleman, Twitter handle BaltoBeerBaron, tweeted Friday that Nance had indicated that he would revoke the stay if there were further violations at Voltage.
State Senator Bill Ferguson (D-46) called the speed at which Voltage secured a hearing and obtained the stay “mind-boggling.”
Furthermore, he added, “I was very surprised to see the stay was granted by the Circuit Court.”
Last year, Ferguson sponsored legislation that allows only the body hearing the appeal—in Voltage’s case, the Circuit Court—to grant a stay on a license revocation. In the past, the Liquor Board had the power to grant a stay at its discretion, and Ferguson said that the board’s practice was to do so, “and then the appeal would drag out forever.”
The board’s practice has a historical basis, according to Ferguson. He said that in “way back” cases in which the Liquor Board did not grant stays, appellate courts were more likely to overturn revocations.
As introduced, Ferguson’s legislation called for a mandatory 45-day period without the possibility of a stay following a liquor license revocation. It was amended, and passed into law, to stipulate that for 45 days following a revocation, only the appellate court may grant a stay. After 45 days, either the appellate court or the Liquor Board can grant the stay.
Ferguson says that the law expedites the appeals process, motivating a licensee to file and move forward with an appeal as soon as possible.
“All of this is being tested right now,” he commented.
Two weeks ago, on March 6, the Liquor Board heard the case against Voltage, represented by the three-lawyer team of Melvin Kodenski, Peter Prevas and Isaac Klein. Commissioners Fogleman and Harvey Jones heard the case; Commissioner Elizabeth Smith was absent. Voltage’s lawyers argued that her absence was reason to postpone the hearing again, citing instances in which the Liquor Board had done so for other licensees facing a hearing with a two-person board.
The board refused the request.
“This case is almost specially set, for lack of a better term,” said Fogleman. “It’s now March. This case was originally docketed for December. That’s quite a delay.”
Voltage’s lawyers plead “not guilty” to all violations, and a few were dismissed, including some instances of underage drinking and a case in which a severely intoxicated man was found suffering post-assault in a vehicle. The Liquor Board noted that it could not be proven that his injuries and intoxication originated within Voltage, and the board also threw out some of the underage drinking violations.
The lawyers asked the board to dismiss a violation in which Principio admittedly sprayed Baltimore City Police Detective David Kincaid with mace, on the grounds that the incident was accidental.
“You’re an attorney,” responded Fogleman, declining to dismiss. “You know that accidents rise sometimes to a criminal matter.”
Voltage’s lawyers noted that on the two occasions in which Voltage personnel maced police officers, the police officers did not arrest the perpetrators.
Kincaid said that after being sprayed by Principio, he was convinced that it was accidental and decided not to pursue the matter further on the grounds that “the man’s got a business to run.”
The other officer who was maced, Officer Joseph Petryszak, testified that he was sprayed in the eyes and couldn’t make an arrest because he could not identify the perpetrator.
“You have two of the politest officers in Baltimore City here,” remarked Fogleman, “who got maced and didn’t press charges.”
Kincaid testified that his incident happened after he responded to the club from the Southeast District for crowd control. Petryszak said he was working “secondary overtime,” an arrangement in which police personnel are employed by the club, which pays the city for their time.
Kodenski also asked the board to dismiss a Dec. 2 violation in which a Voltage patron was the victim of a non-fatal shooting.
“There’s no testimony that the licensee did anything,” he said. “There’s nothing that happened in this case that the licensee did.”
Again, the board upheld the violation and declined to dismiss.
Lieutenant Gerald Quarels of the Baltimore City Fire Department testified that on Halloween night, the evening in which some of Voltage’s violations occurred, the club had “proper crowd controls” in place.
Still unaddressed is a petition for the revocation of Voltage’s liquor license, signed by 29 residents, many from Anglesea St. near the club. Joyce Adamski, president of the Southeast District Police Community Relations Council, said that she can obtain more signatures if there is a revocation hearing down the line, should Voltage’s license be reinstated permanently by the Circuit Court.
by Erik Zygmont