The state has struck down early closing hours imposed by Morristown officials on the Revolution bar as “arbitrary and unreasonable.”
J. Wesley Geiselman, acting director of the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, has sided with an administrative law judge who earlier this year found the curfews arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and discriminatory.
“After review of the transcripts, exhibits, exceptions and Initial Decision, I can find no basis or nexus between a documented problem and the imposition of the limited hours special condition…” Geiselman wrote in a decision issued last week.
“Based on the foregoing, [the town] has been unable to demonstrate what problem the condition is addressing and how it corrects the problem. Therefore, the only conclusion is that the special condition limiting Revolution’s hours is arbitrary and unreasonable.”
Other establishments serving alcohol can operate until 2 am in Morristown. But Revolution was required to close at 11 pm Sundays through Thursdays, and at 11:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, as a condition for the town council allowing owner Jimmy Cavanaugh to expand his liquor license from his adjoining Iron Bar in 2016.
Cavanaugh hailed the ABC decision.
“I’ve been in business 37 years in Morristown, invested millions of dollars, and I refuse to be extorted by politicians who have evil intentions,” said Cavanaugh, a former Essex County freeholder.
“They come and go, but it’s the people who invest in Morristown who have made it what it is today.The judge and state see through their unlawful actions and discrimination. The truth will come soon enough. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent by the town over the years on this matter,” Cavanaugh said.
Cavanaugh has spent about $100,000 fighting town hall, according to his lawyer.
The council had set the conditions in response to residents’ complaints about late-night drunken behavior outside their properties by patrons of downtown bars.
Town officials have not decided whether to appeal Geiselman’s order.
“We’ll present it to the council and see which direction the council wants to go in,” town Attorney Vij Pawar said this week.
Councilman Robert Iannaccone, whose First Ward includes the South Street bars, is awaiting that presentation.
“We have to meet with the lawyers and see what the next steps are,” said Iannaccone, who was elected after the council imposed the curfews.
Geiselman based his decision on findings by Administrative Law Judge John P. Scollo. Scollo’s determination, in turn, came from his review of testimony heard last year by another administrative judge, Joan Bedrin-Murray, who was appointed in December to state tax court.
Morristown officials had indicated they would challenge Scollo’s opinion because he had not conducted the April 2017 hearings himself.
But Geiselman said the town never filed that objection.
“We were not given an option on whether to have a re-trial,” Pawar, the town attorney, told Morristown Green. He declined to elaborate.
Geiselman cited several findings as persuasive:
- Fourteen residents who voiced concerns about Cavanaugh’s bars were unable to document any incidents suggesting a need for early closures.
- No municipal reports indicated any issues; the police and fire chiefs testified they knew of no specific problems or violations at Iron Bar or Revolution.
- The town stipulated there were no violations of state or local laws at either establishment.
- Then-Council President Stefan Armington could not explain how the council came up with the closing times.
- Revolution has been operating until 2 am, with no incidents, under a series of stays of the curfews.
When the state ABC initially stayed the curfews, Cavanaugh agreed to reduce maximum occupancy of the Iron Bar from 1,403 patrons down to 1,043. Geiselman spiked that condition, too.
Combined, the Iron Bar and Revolution rarely exceed the lower figure, the town has acknowledged. So even if the Revolution conditions continued, Geiselman reasoned, at curfew time its patrons simply could go next door to the Iron Bar — without increasing the net number of people hitting the streets at 2 am.
Peggy Herburger, who lives in a million-dollar home about a block from Revolution, said spillover trouble from the bar scene “runs in spurts.”
Illegal parking and public urination, defecation and vomiting have tapered off, Herburger said. But she and her husband remain wary. Another bar owner is building a restaurant that abuts her backyard. Town officials do not seem concerned about the consequences, she said.
“All of our houses vibrate all day long” from the construction, she said. Years of fighting the local bar industry have shaken her, too.
“I don’t trust these people,” Herburger said. “They are capable of doing anything to make money.”