Alcohol Trade Group Sets Up Legal Defense Fund
CHARR starts legal fund to fight Alcohol Beverage Control board
ANCHORAGE - A hospitality trade group is starting a legal defense fund for bar employees and patrons who have been arrested on charges of over-serving or being drunk on the premises.
The statewide group, Carbaret, Hotel, Restaurant & Retailers CHARR, has raised $45,000 toward a goal of $115,000 for an attorney and office space dedicated to the defense of people caught up in sting operations by the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) board and the Anchorage Police Department (APD).
The CHARR director and one bar owner told CBS 11 they believe the state ABC board is actually trying to put proprietors out of business.
Dale Fox, president of Alaska CHARR, said things haven't been the same for the alcohol industry since former Governor Frank Murkowski moved the ABC board from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Public Safety.
Fox said the board has absorbed the law enforcement mentality of the state troopers and has overreached with its compliance checks and undercover stings, arresting 20 people on a single weekend.
"With ABC board encouragement, the Anchorage Police Department have gone out and started arresting people they believe are drunk on premises. We had a fellow call our office the other day that said he had exactly three drinks and was arrested for being drunk on premises," Fox said.
Bar owner Darwin Biwer said police have been using subjective standards to decide who is unlawfully drunk in a bar, a crime for which there is no threshold level of alcohol in the bloodstream.
"The cops only come into the bars for a few minutes and think they're a better judge of who's substantially impaired than our purposely trained people."
Fox said employees and patrons have a choice of pleading guilty or paying $5,000 they might not have to hire an attorney. "CHARR decided we needed to make it easier for those people."
But ABC board director Shirley Gifford said encouraging compliance is at the heart of her mission.
"We did compliance checks up in the [Mat-Su] Valley last night. Every licensee or their employees passed the compliance checks. We're happy. We're happy today. I want to see we have a goal of 95 percent compliance, and I would like for licensees to reach that goal."
CHARR is supporting legislation to move the ABC board back under the Commerce Department.
Gifford has no official position on that.
But she said, "Every day we're working with licensees to help them to succeed in their business, and part of that success is not selling to underage persons and not overserving somebody who's already had too much."
The dispute is sure to go another round.
CHARR points to a report saying that servers in alcohol establishments in Alaska are the best in the nation at avoiding sales to minors.
Gifford doesn't dispute those numbers but says they can still do better.