There is something fishy about how the City of Warren presented its case against the Sunset Lounge compared to how it presented its case against the Olympic Inn, and the difference could result in serious legal complications that turn costly to taxpayers.
The city requested that the Ohio Department of Liquor Control not renew the Olympic Inn's liquor license. As part of its case, the city established that its police responded to 27 calls there in 2012 and one after-hours shooting resulted in a neighbor getting wounded by a stray bullet. State hearing officer Bruce D. Stevenson wrote, ''The serious nature of these calls has escalated. They frequently include(d) fights, assaults, large crowds and gunshots."
In this case, the city took a strong stand against crime. The state denied the Olympic Inn's renewal.
The city also requested that the liquor department not renew the license for Sunset Lounge. Warren City Council pushed for the non-renewal because police, from May through August, responded to more than 20 calls at the downtown nightspot. Then, on New Year's Day, a man was murdered inside the lounge and gunfire, according to 911 transcripts, spilled onto the streets endangering many, including a woman who was shot in the foot while fleeing the scene.
At the hearing, the Warren Law Department made no mention of even a single act of violence or a single police call. All of the evidence presented dealt with paperwork.
That prompted state hearing officer James P. Bally to write, ''There was just no additional evidence presented at this hearing upon which a denial of this application could be based.''
So much for taking a tough stand to clean up the city.
Olympic Inn owner Linda Gadd has hired a lawyer to appeal the non-renewal and, presumably, to file a lawsuit against the city for unfair treatment, at least compared to Sunset Lounge.
This unbalanced approach also lends credence to a civil Racketeer Corrupt Influence Organization, or RICO, lawsuit that Sunrise Inn of Warren Inc. owner Ken Haidaris filed. The suit names LaShawn Ziegler, who operated the Sunset Lounge, Joseph Sankey, who owns the building, Robert Cregar, who owned a building that Ziegler used for his company, and several Jane and John Does.
All this once again raises the potential conflict of interest Warren Law Director Greg Hicks, whose office presented the cases against Olympic Inn and Sunset Lounge, has by housing his private practice in a building owned by Cregar.
Attorney Richard Goodman, who represents Sunrise Inn in the civil RICO suit, said he would investigate the ''circumstances around the Olympic to be able to justify why we believe the city didn't act properly'' with its handling of the Sunset Lounge case.
''It is incumbent upon us as plaintiffs to thoroughly review the circumstances before a comparison is made,'' Goodman said. ''It is certainly on our list of items to be able to make that comparison as it relates to the City of Warren.''
Haidaris is claiming the RICO defendants conspired to put him out of business. In a written statement issued when the suit was filed, Haidaris claimed that the city has failed to protect his business against the violence at Sunset, located across the street at the corner of Elm Road and East Market Street. After comparing how the city handled the Olympic Inn to how it handled the Sunset Lounge, Haidaris seems correct.
Hicks would not say if evidence of violence should have been presented in the Sunset case. ''Second guessing is not the business we should be in,'' Hicks said.
''We're in the business of looking forward, not behind,'' Hicks said. ''We will learn from that, but not second guess it.''
Taxpayers might be second-guessing, especially if Warren officials get drawn into the RICO suit or on the defensive against a lawsuit from Gadd.