Judge's decision deemed 'exceptionally harsh', 'clearly excessive'
Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The state's Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Appeals Board considers the penalties assessed against bar owner Sal Costanzo too harsh, and has called for their reconsideration.
Sidelines and Toby & Jack's, both owned by Costanzo's Genco Olive Oil Company, Inc., were charged by ABC with employee drug dealing based on a 10-month investigation in 2017 and 2018. Suspension of both bars' liquor licenses was recommended following a four-day administrative hearing in Eureka last year. The ruling was upheld by ABC's director.
After hearing the appeals of both cases on Aug. 16, the Appeals Board has decided that the administrative law judge who heard the cases didn't sufficiently consider Costanzo's "long history of licensure" and his comprehensive response to the violations in deciding the penalty.
States the Appeals Board in the Toby and Jack's case, "Accordingly, we believe it constitutes an abuse of discretion to disregard this substantial mitigating factor and other efforts undertaken by appellant such as: terminating the offending employees, removing Ms. Costanzos as an officer of the corporation, increasing training for employees, increasing security measures, and installing surveillance cameras."
Concludes the board, "Fundamental fairness and the ends of substantial justice require that the Department reconsider the penalty imposed in this matter in order to consider why the above-mentioned factors would not have afforded some measure of mitigation, such as the ability to sell the business and transfer the license. the decision of the Department is hereby remanded for reconsideration of the penalty in light of the above discussion."
In its ruling on the Sidelines, he board states that, "While the penalty here is technically within the bounds of the Department's discretion, we note that it is exceptionally harsh... Accordingly, we believe it is so clearly excessive that any reasonable person would find it to be an abuse of discretion in light of all the circumstances." The board also calls for reconsideration of the Sidelines decision.
"I'm working with my team of attorneys," Costanzo said, declining further comment.