Archive for Saturday, June 25, 2005

Bar owner rejects city’s withdrawal of smoking case

Businessman wants public ban declared unconstitutional

June 25, 2005


City prosecutors confirmed Friday that they have dropped charges against a Lawrence nightclub owner accused of violating the city's smoking ban because the case was no longer worth their time, they said.

But Dennis Steffes, owner of Coyotes and Last Call, said city prosecutors dropped the charges against him because they were afraid that if the case proceeded, the city's smoking ban may be ruled unconstitutional.

"It was a game of chicken, and they swerved," Steffes said about the city's action.

Steffes said he would ask Douglas County District Court Judge Jack Murphy to allow the case to continue because the dismissal of the charges does nothing to address Steffes' arguments that the ban is unconstitutional.

"I have been in business in this town for 22 years," Steffes said. "I'm tired of just fading out and going away. This (ban) was the straw that broke the camel's back. I'm going to see this through. We have to reach a compromise on this."

City Prosecutor Jerry Little, though, said the city's decision to drop the charges had nothing to do with a fear of losing in court.

"We looked at this from a cost-benefit analysis, and it is just not worth the $100 fine that is at stake," Little said. "We don't want to waste the court's time here. But we're prepared to defend the constitutionality of the ordinance, if that is what is needed."



But, Little said, the city's position is that Steffes no longer has legal standing to make the constitutional challenge, since there are no longer charges pending against him.

Steffes said that was a weak argument by the city because all he needed to do to regain legal standing was to be cited again for a violation of the city's ban on indoor, workplace smoking.

"It is not hard to get a violation," Steffes said. "We can accomplish that tonight."

In April, Steffes faced five counts of violating the city's smoking ban by allowing patrons to smoke in his two Lawrence nightclubs. Municipal Court Judge Randy McGrath found Steffes not guilty on four of the five counts. Steffes appealed his conviction on the one count and argued as part of his defense that the city's smoking ban was unconstitutional. He said the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague and improperly superseded applicable state laws.

Murphy is scheduled to hold a hearing in District Court at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday on whether the case can proceed.

Proponents of the city's smoking ban said they were not disappointed by the city's decision to drop the charges.

"I think the city has learned a lot about the need to do a little more legwork before they file charges," said Dr. Steven Bruner, a physician who has lobbied for the ban. "If he (Steffes) chooses to flaunt the law all over again, they'll be able to put together a much better case."

Bruner also said he didn't think the city had anything to worry about regarding the constitutionality of the ban.

"The Kentucky Supreme Court put it most plainly, recently," Bruner said of a 2004 decision upholding a ban in Lexington. "It said that it is not just the right, but the responsibility of all levels of government to protect the public's health. That's what this ban is doing."


Hong_Kong_Phooey 12 years, 12 months ago

I support the smoking ban 100%. I think it is amazing to go out to a bar now. In fact, the last time I went out to a bar in KC (which currently has no smoking ban) I felt sick, got a headache, left smelling like crap, and my eyes hurt. A bar is for DRINKING!

However, I do disagree with the city's decision to go after the bar owner from the get-go. I think that the citation should be issued to the person smoking then, if a bar gets a certain number of citations within a given time, they can be cited as well. That way, smokers realize there are consequences for endangering the health of those inside the bars and the bar owners realize that they need to be vigilant as well.

lunacydetector 12 years, 12 months ago

...and a lot of people in favor of the smoking ban see nothing wrong legalizing marijuana. go figure.

hammysammy 12 years, 12 months ago

Obviously these people that concerned about their health, liqour consumption is way more damaging than second hand smoke inhalation. Give me a break.

topflight 12 years, 12 months ago

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samsnewplace 12 years, 12 months ago

I support the no smoking ban in restaurants, because I no longer frequent bars. I know most bars in other cities are so smoke filled you can't breatheby 9pm, so I no longer go. It is one place where you can go after a long day at work, relax and drink, so why not smoke also, and I am a non-smoker. Now when I take my family out for a nice dinner, the last thing I want is some inconsiderate smoker puffing up a storm right next to us. Of course the non-smoking sections are bumped right next to the smoking section. Keep the ban for restaurants, let the smokers have the bar scene.

FastEddie 12 years, 12 months ago

Bar owners need to be held responsible for smokers because the firemarshall cannot check on every bar all of the time. I cannot take any legal action against anyone who is smoking right next to me, but at least the employees can kick them out.

Secondary smoke is not good for my health but a drink or two a day can actually lengthen my life span.

I usually only go out to to bars to listen to live entertainment and the smoking ban has been a real blessing. I don't have to shower afterwards and my snot isn't black. Unfortunately, some of these live venues still do not enforce the ban very well and are still not getting caught.

newsreader 12 years, 12 months ago

when are the owners going to realize that the good majority of people LOVE the smoking ban?

lunacydetector 12 years, 12 months ago

i thought the ban was passed to protect the workers - i haven't seen anyone use that excuse yet.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 12 months ago

No it will not be lifted. Kansas City Metro one day will follow suit as will Topeka, Kansas. Other small Kansas towns are doing it. Lawrence, Kansas was a long way form being the first to impose this SMART Ordinance. I would say if smokers did not want to breathe cleaner air on the inside they should not go inside. My logic is founded when inside of bar/grill types who is in the far greater majority...non smokers. Who knows maybe someone will get more nutty than Mr. Steffes and sue him for promoting lung cancer. Mr Steffes then will be asked by the court to pay expenses for his clients who become diagnosed with such. I thought it was odd that neither side would talk compromise and now I'm pleased that they did not choose to do so. That opportunity is now lost as so many do appreciate the non smoking atmosphere. This family is out more often. I've spoke with many who opposed the ban initially but now love dancing in a smoke free atmosphere. I seriously doubt voters would support over turning this ordinance.

opinionated 12 years, 12 months ago

Where do you get that the majority of the public supports the smoking ban? This issue was never put to a vote when it was put into place. I personally think that it should be up to the business owners to decide whether or not to smoke in their establishment. If you don't like the smoke, don't go to the establishments that permit it.

Why is cigarette smoke always the first thing people complain about when it comes to health. Do you people ever think to put down the double cheeseburger and fries before you started assuming that smoke is the cause of your health problems?

newsreader 12 years, 12 months ago

why is it so wrong me for me to want to come home from the bars, and not nearly vomit from the smell coming off my clothes? I have a choice to eat a cheeseburger, I don't have a choice to be around your smoke.

neopolss 12 years, 12 months ago

Time to ban ice cream in the name of "public health." Lawrence needs to start establishing guidlines as to what restaurants and grocery stores can carry.

"Public health, public safety." It's a cover people. It's nothing more than a power grab at property rights.

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