Ocean City Today

Liquor store decision waits on judge

By Brian Gilliland | Nov 30, 2017

(Dec. 1, 2017) The fate of the Pocomoke City Shore Spirits store remains unknown after Circuit Court Judge Broughton Earnest opted to deliver a written opinion on the facts instead of rendering a verdict at the time of the hearing on Wednesday.

The opinion can be produced at the judge’s discretion and could take weeks before it’s delivered.

If the petitioner, Janik Patel, prevails, the award of a Class A beer, wine and liquor license to Kalpesh Patel, the person who won the bidding for the former county store, will be blocked, releasing him from the contract to purchase the store.

If Kalpesh Patel, joined by the Board of License Commissioners and Worcester County, prevails, the transaction would be complete.

However, Janik Patel could file another appeal, though she said via her attorney, Hugh Cropper, they were focused on the current proceedings.

Cropper argued the appeal on three grounds. First, the plaintiffs allege that the application to appear before the Board of License Commissioners filed by Kalpesh Patel was completed in bad faith. They also contended that the need for a store selling beer at that location was exaggerated. The third point in the appeal was that

the application was for a beer, wine and liquor license, even though sales data provided by Worcester County showed wine was not in high demand for that store, and beer demand was being served by two other stores in the same strip mall. Without proving the demand for all three would be served, the application should be denied, Cropper argued.

Cropper told the judge he felt his first argument was the most compelling and the third was his favorite, because it was the most creative.

As to the first argument, Cropper said the application must be filled out by resident property owners who are registered voters within the municipality of Pocomoke. The application required 10 signatures of people certifying Kalpesh Patel is an appropriate person for a liquor license. One of the required fields in the application is a notation of the length of time the signatory is acquainted with Kalpesh Patel.

Patel submitted 16 signatures, all from people who indicated they had “just met” Patel. Cropper argued the standard for a certification could not be met by people who meet the applicant for the first time when collecting signatures.

Mark Cropper, representing Kalpesh Patel, said the application required the notation of how long the applicant and signatory knew each other, but there was no standard for a length of time, so “just met” — noted on the application as an acceptable answer — meets the standard for the process.

Mark Cropper, arguing for the defendant, also said that Janik Patel unsuccessfully bid for the store when it was for sale, and that she admitted during the hearing at the Board of License Commissioners that she would have pursued a similar license had she won the store.

Cropper said Janik Patel was not against the idea of the license, but against the idea of a license being issued to anyone who isn’t her.

Judge Earnest said he needed time to evaluate the arguments, and would issue his decision as soon as circumstances allow.

This appeal has resulted in further delay of the county’s exit from the liquor control business. In fact, the county went so far as to not produce an operating budget for the department as part of negotiations this year, and was forced to prepare one.

County Treasurer Phil Thompson was directed to produce a budget for the department, which passed a public hearing on Aug. 15. The budget was set at about $1 million.

Bids on the two county stores, especially the Pocomoke City store, beat expectations, but couldn’t account for litigation or missed deadlines.

Patel bid $1.175 million for the store, its contents and the real estate.

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