Monday, April 17, 2006

Dallas nightclub sues state agency

Austin bar claims TABC overstepped its authority with undercover stings
Dallas Night Club is suing the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, accusing the state agency of unfairly targeting the bar and using an inconsistent standard to decide when patrons are legally drunk.
"The TABC has embarked on a deliberate and knowing course of conduct to drive Dallas out of business," says the lawsuit, which attorney Jesse R. Castillo said was mailed to U.S. District Court in Austin on Monday. "Dallas has lost the bulk of its clientele and millions of dollars in revenue."
Similar operations in other parts of the state have brought a backlash against the commission from tourism officials, lawmakers and others.
The agency said Wednesday that it has suspended its crackdown on public intoxication after a public outcry. Spokeswoman Carolyn Beck told The Associated Press that the commission put the program on hold "to give us time to sift through all the information we've received and pull together all the information and determine the best way to proceed."
The lawsuit filed Monday seeks unspecified damages and claims the commission's enforcement efforts are unconstitutional.
Since Dallas appeared at the top of an Austin police list of bars where people arrested on suspicion of drunken driving said they consumed their last drink, the nightclub on Burnet Road has been in the cross hairs of the commission. Along with Austin police, the agency's agents have conducted numerous undercover operations at Dallas, arresting patrons for public intoxication and accusing bartenders of selling alcohol to intoxicated people and the club's manager of inducing customers to drink excessively, both violations of beverage commission rules.
This week's lawsuit follows an administrative hearing in January in which commission officials argued that Dallas' liquor license should be canceled. An administrative judge is expected to make a recommendation to the commission this month.
Commission officials have said that the club has not done enough to address concerns about its drink promotions, particularly the weekly 69-cent drink special.
Dallas argues in its lawsuit that the agency "is arbitrary and inconsistent in the standard it uses to define 'intoxication.' "
Police can charge someone for drunk driving if the person has a blood alcohol level of .08, while a
public intoxication arrest requires finding that a person is "a clear danger to themselves or others," the lawsuit says.
Commission agents overstepped their authority by using the DWI standard to arrest Dallas patrons in its stings, the lawsuit says.
"We'd rather not be here, but we didn't have a choice," said Betty Jensen, president of Cowpoke Inc., which runs Dallas.