The director of the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Division will not sit in judgment of Pizazz nightclub on four allegations that the club served alcohol to minors.
Tom Hanna, ABC director, agreed Wednesday afternoon to disqualify himself from presiding at a hearing next week on the four allegations.
Mike Riling, a Lawrence attorney who represents Pizazz, filed a petition Nov. 19 with the Kansas Department of Revenue asking that Hanna be disqualified because of comments the director made to a Journal-World reporter.
The comments came on Nov. 14, when Hanna announced seven charges, including the four underage drinking citations, filed against Pizazz, 901 Miss. Hanna was quoted in a news article as saying the ABC had "a strong case" against the club.
RILING, IN his petition, said that Hanna's comments indicated a prejudice against Pizazz, and the club should not be forced to appear before a hearing officer "who has already determined a strong case exists against it."
"I did say that, and the newspaper quoted me correctly," Hanna said following a Wednesday afternoon conference call with Riling. "On the advice of counsel, on the four citations in question, I have withdrawn as the hearing officer."
Hanna said his comments were based on written reports provided to him by ABC agents. Even though he disqualified himself, Hanna maintained he still could give a fair hearing to Pizazz.
"Admittedly, I had read ABC reports describing the activities," he said. "But I don't think they'd ever get a fairer hearing from anyone other than me."
RILING CALLED Hanna's withdrawal from the hearing "appropriate."
Hanna said state statutes require him to appoint a replacement hearing officer. As of this morning, that appointment had not been announced.
Hanna said Pizazz still will be required to appear before him next Wednesday to plead its case on three charges that it allowed non-members into the private nightclub and one charge of after-hours operation.
If it's determined Pizazz violated its Class B private club license regulations, it could face fines or license suspension or revocation.
In September, Hanna found Pizazz had violated four liquor license regulations and ordered the club to pay a $1,000 fine and required it to close for three days.
Pizazz is appealing that decision to the secretary of revenue, who oversees the ABC. The appeal originally was set for a Nov. 20 hearing, but was postponed indefinitely.