Crime & Courts

Court: City violated rights of bar owner in taking license

A Wichita tavern owner said he feels vindicated after a judge struck down the City Council's decision to take away his liquor license.

"This has cost me a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of business to find out I was right all along," said Rob Crandell, who owns Doobley's Irish Pirate Taverns at 767 N. West St. and 2415 W. 31st St. South.

Sedgwick County District Judge Anthony Powell ruled Thursday that council members violated the bar owner's constitutional rights and overstepped their authority in revoking Crandell's liquor licenses.

"This has hurt my reputation and caused a lot of rumors, and City Council is not going to just come back and say they are sorry," Crandell said.

The response from City Hall:

"We respectfully disagree with the judge's ruling," said City Attorney Gary Rebenstorf.

By city ordinance, a bar may lose its liquor license if it's considered a public nuisance. Wichita police claimed Crandell lied to them about how a man came to be found unconscious outside Doobley's West Street location in June 2010.

But the judge said the council didn't follow its own ordinances in taking away Crandell's licenses for both bars, while denying Crandell his basic legal rights.

The city didn't have written procedures for conducting such hearings, as required by law, Powell found.

The judge agreed with Crandell's lawyer, Jim Thompson, that the city denied the businessman his constitutional rights to confront accusers through cross-examination or present witnesses in his defense.

The city contended Crandell should forfeit those rights because Thompson never objected to the hearing.

An objection would have made little difference, Powell determined, because the city had no rules for its hearing.

"Waiving a right suggests having it and knowing about it in the first place," Powell wrote in a 25-page decision.

Just two weeks ago, the Kansas Court of Appeals said governmental bodies have to have written policies for conducting such proceedings.

"That decision came out after we argued the case before the judge, and the court changed how those are analyzed and handled," Rebenstorf said.

Thompson said the latest opinion simply clarified what he had argued the past six months.

Powell cited other case law dating back decades in ruling that the city also violated Crandell's rights by allowing a police detective's version of events to go unchallenged.

Both the U.S. and Kansas constitutions guarantee people the right to cross-examine witnesses and present testimony in their defense, Powell said.

Crandell called 911 to report finding a man unconscious outside the West Street tavern after midnight June 1, 2010, records show.

The man had been intoxicated in the bar 15 minutes earlier, Crandell told police. Crandell said he tried to get the drunken patron a cab and escorted him outside to wait for the ride.

A customer then came in to report the man lying in the parking lot, severely injured, Crandell said.

Police said Crandell was covering up for his girlfriend, who managed the bar. Her cousin was later convicted of aggravated battery for attacking the injured patron.

"There were 70 people in the bar that night," Crandell said Thursday, following the ruling. "There is no way I could know what was going on outside."

Crandell and his girlfriend were convicted of obstructing the legal process, a misdemeanor. Crandell pleaded no contest.

This past summer, the City Council voted 4-3 to yank Crandell's liquor license.

Under a city ordinance, a liquor license faces revocation if "a crime of moral turpitude" is committed on the premises. That would include giving false information to the police, Powell said.

But only one council member cited Crandell's conduct as a reason for voting to take away the license. Crandell, meanwhile, never received written reasons for council's decision.

"Therefore, this Court is left in a quandary as to why the City acted the way it did," Powell wrote.

Powell also ruled the City Council had no authority to revoke a liquor license at the south Wichita location, where there was no allegation of wrong-doing.

"Every business or individual has the right to due process of law," said Thompson, Crandell's attorney. "This ruling will benefit anyone who finds themselves in this type of situation."