A trial to determine the fate of the Iron Bar’s expansion — tentatively set to start on March 9, 2015–has been postponed until summer. But it could prove worth the wait for fans of courtroom drama.
Attorney Jay DeLaney Jr. has joined the case on behalf of Iron Bar opponents — setting up a legal rematch with Robert C. Williams III, the lawyer for Iron Bar owner Jimmy Cavanagh.
DeLaney, a former Morristown mayor, and Williams squared off in 2012, sharing some spirited exchanges in another liquor license case.
One of the state’s premier lawyers for bar owners, Williams does not lose very often. But DeLaney’s side prevailed when aggrieved residents persuaded the town council to nix a license transfer by the Walsh family for a proposed a bowling alley/bar on DeHart Street.
During those hearings, DeLaney needled Williams for incorrectly referring to Morristown as a township. Williams accused DeLaney of unprofessional decorum and leading questions.
In the Iron Bar case, re-scheduled for June 26 before Administrative Law Judge Evelyn Marose in Newark, many of the same Morristown residents contend their quality of life continues to suffer because of drunken behavior by patrons of downtown bars.
The council responded to those concerns by imposing conditions on Cavanaugh’s extension of his Iron Bar license to an adjacent South Street storefront. He hopes to open a jazz bar/restaurant there called the Iron Bistro.
Alcohol sales must stop 11:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and at 11 pm on weeknights. Other bars serve until 2 pm.
“No matter what side of the issue you are on this is just plain wrong, and dishonest,” Cavanaugh commented on Morristown Green.
Asserting that his project was unfairly jeopardized , Cavanaugh appealed to the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which stayed the conditions. Now, local officials must prove their curfews are not “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”
Attorney Elnardo Webster II is defending the council. Both sides agreed to allow DeLaney to join the case, representing residents Jack and Donna Gaffney.
“We’ll support the town of Morristown” at the trial, DeLaney said on Friday. He anticipates calling “at least 10 witnesses” to testify.
The trial date was pushed back to enable Williams to obtain information from those witnesses, said DeLaney. It may start even later, however, because of the Gaffneys’ vacation plans.
DeLaney described everything as cordial on the legal side.
“The lawyers want to work with each other,” he said.
Williams described DeLaney as a “fine attorney,” and said he recalled no acrimony from 2012.
What’s important, he said on Saturday, is the Iron Bar’s contention that the Iron Bistro will bring no additional patrons to South Street.
“There will be no more traffic, no more people, just better food service,” said Williams. He said Iron Bar employees would monitor head counts next door at the Iron Bistro, and admit fewer patrons to the Iron Bar if necessary to ensure the combined occupancy does not exceed 1,040.
“If the same number of people are going to be in town with or without the Iron Bistro, what can be the legitimate complaint?” he said.
That, he said, is the key difference between the Iron Bistro and the rejected DeHart Street application, which would have created additional seats for alcohol-consuming customers.
Without the Iron Bistro, Williams continued, other BYOB restaurants could occupy the former CUPS yogurt shop and Zebu Forno coffee shop next to the Iron Bar, bringing more people downtown.
Williams and Webster could not be reached for comment on Friday. The judge’s decision will go to state ABC Director Michael Halfacre, who has the ultimate say, according to a spokesman for the division.