PEDRO ALMAZO ROJAS, ET AL.
BOARD OF LIQUOR LICENSE COMMISSIONERS FOR BALTIMORE CITY
Wright, Kehoe, Arthur, JJ.
appeal arises from a judgment of the Circuit Court for
Baltimore City entered on June 23, 2015, which affirmed the
decision of appellee, the Board of Liquor License
Commissioners for Baltimore City ("Liquor Board"),
finding that appellants, Pedro Almazo Rojas, Carlos Navarro
Sotelo, and Amigos Bar, Inc. t/a Amigos Bar violated Rule
4.05(a) "Prohibited Hours" and Rule 4.18
"Illegal Conduct" of the Rules and Regulations for
the Baltimore City Liquor Board ("Liquor Board
Rules"). Accordingly, the circuit court upheld the
sanctions imposed by the Liquor Board, which included a
four-day suspension, a $3, 000.00 fine, and a $125.00
administrative fee. On July 10, 2015, appellants timely
1. Did the Liquor Board err in finding [appellants] guilty of
violating Liquor Board Rule 4.05(a) Prohibited Hours, where
[appellants were] not open past 1:00 a.m. Eastern Standard
Time on November 2, 2014?
2. Did the Liquor Board err in finding [appellants] guilty of
violating Liquor Board Rule 4.18 Illegal Conduct, where two
patrons were dancing together on November 2, 2014?
3. Did the Liquor Board deny [appellants] a fair hearing by
reviewing letters ex parte from two city councilmen
and a community association official requesting that the
Liquor Board impose the maximum penalty allowed?
answer "no" to the first and third questions, and
as to the second question, the Liquor Board concedes that it
erred in finding that appellants violated Rule 4.18. As such,
we uphold the Liquor Board's finding of a Rule 4.05(a)
violation, reverse its finding of a Rule 4.18 violation, and
remand the case to the circuit court with instructions to
remand to the Liquor Board so that it can reassess the
Bar is a tavern business located at 400 South Eaton Street,
Baltimore, Maryland 21224, for which Rojas and Sotelo served
as the liquor licensees. Appellantshold a Baltimore City Class D
Liquor License authorizing the sale of beer, wine, and liquor
at Amigos Bar. The liquor license permits alcohol sales
"at any time except from  1:00 A.M. until 6:00 A.M.
daily and no sales on Sunday from 1:00 A.M. until 6:00 A.M.
Monday unless such hours shall be further extended or limited
by law." In addition, Amigos Bar has a Certificate of
Occupancy specifying that it may "continue to use
1st [floor] of premises for a tavern with out
[sic] live entertainment . . . ."
November 2, 2014, at 1:23 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time
("EDT"), Baltimore City Police Lieutenant William
Colburn and Baltimore City Liquor Inspector Tommy Karanikolis
were conducting random checks of liquor licenses throughout
the Southeastern District of Baltimore City when they noticed
that Amigos Bar appeared to be open. Lt. Colburn knew the
time restrictions on Amigos Bar's license from previous
experience,  and both men knew that on that night,
Daylight Saving Time would end at 2:00 a.m. EDT, at which
time Eastern Standard Time ("EST") would
Karanikolis approached Amigos Bar first. He saw a bouncer
outside and a sign indicating that the tavern was open. Upon
entering the building, Inspector Karanikolis observed about
13 or 14 people with drinks. Although he did not see anyone
actually drinking their beverages, he noted that the patrons
had drinks inches away from them, and he saw people paying
for drinks as they left the bar.
Colburn entered the tavern approximately two minutes later
and observed the same: numerous alcoholic drinks on the bar
and in the bar area, about 12 to 15 patrons seated around the
bar or standing, many with drinks inches away from them. He
also saw two individuals dancing together to loud
music. Lt. Colburn then "ordered the
establishment to close, turn the music off and have patrons
exit the establishment."
notice dated November 4, 2014, the Liquor Board cited
appellants with violation of Rule 4.05(a), for being open and
operating Amigos Bar past 1 a.m., and Rule 4.18, for having
"live entertainment" (i.e., "2 people
dancing on the first floor area of the establishment while
music was being played"), on November 2, 2014. The
Liquor Board held a hearing on December 11, 2014, at which
time appellants, represented by counsel, were tasked with
showing why its liquor license should not be suspended or
revoked. With regard to Rule 4.05(a), counsel for appellants
argued that Amigos Bar complied with the code because the
statute "makes [no] clarification" regarding
Daylight Saving Time and "as long as they close by the
second one o'clock they have complied with the
statute." Counsel further argued that there was no
violation of Rule 4.18 because patron dancing, as opposed to
a "dance performance, " did not fall within the
definition of "live entertainment."
the hearing, the chairman of the Liquor Board rejected
appellants' arguments, "rule[d] that the facts are
clear" and "found the licensee responsible, "
thereby recommending a "closing of four days" and a
"$3, 000 fine because . . . it's a subsequent
offense." The remaining two commissioners on the
Liquor Board agreed. One commissioner noted that despite
Amigos Bar being located in a district that allows dancing
and live entertainment, appellants did not "get approval
from zoning to have dancing at the location." In
addition, the other commissioner stated that, with regard to
the daylight saving time issue, "it's a clever
argument, but . . . it's clear that there was a
for appellants argued for mitigation of the penalty,
prompting the Liquor Board to refer to three letters that it
had received on the day of the hearing, over appellants'
objection. Two of the letters were from Baltimore City
Councilmen Brandon M. Scott and James B. Kraft, respectively,
and one was from Kevin L. Bernhard, a Liquor Board member, on
behalf of the Highlandtown Community Association, Inc. All
three letters asked the Liquor Board to consider or impose
the maximum penalty, which at that time included revocation
or suspension of the license, and/or "a fine ...