Program is toast, but non-attorney consultant vows to press legal challenge in court
Capping two hours of contentious debate, the governing body of the New York State Liquor Authority voted Wednesday to scrap a 12-year-old program that critics says unfairly discriminates against applicants unable or unwilling to pay lawyers extra so they can cut the line.
The board’s decision to no longer accept “attorney certified” applications after Feb. 8, 2022, does not end the legal challenge brought by non-attorney licensing consultant John Springer, the owner of this website. The board refused to explain by what statutory authority the agency believes it had to bypass the process required by state law when creating rules and programs that significantly affect the public. Because no rule was created and no guidelines were ever adopted, Springer’s contends the program violates the State Constitution.
“This isn’t over. They had no right to do this without drafting guidelines, holding hearings and publishing them,” Springer said after addressing the board in Albany. “The reason that the law requires programs like this to go through a formal process before adoption is precisely because of what happened here. This program was garbage from day one.”
Chairman Vincent G. Bradley Jr. was vocal in his criticism of the program during the hearing, sparring with New York City lawyers who spoke out in favor of the program. He said that after reviewing about 100 certified applications himself, it was clear that attorneys were not taking their promise to submit complete and accurate applications seriously. Some attorneys were so sloppy, Bradley said, that they accidentally included their client invoices in their submissions to the state on behalf of clients. Some attorneys charged 30% more just to certify the applications, Bradley said.
“I don’t think there’s any choice but to eliminate the program,” Bradley said.
The chairman promised to meet with industry representatives in the near future to figure out a path forward for reducing what he called a “crisis” – a 5-6 month backlog in retail license application reviews.
“We recognize we are in a crisis,” Bradley said. “We recognize it’s taking too long.”
Commissioners Greeley Ford and Lily Fan also voted to discontinue the certification program and agreed with Bradley’s suggestion that attorneys be given until Feb. 8 to submit applications already in progress that they were retained to certified.
Springer, who has been representing clients before the liquor authority since 2009, was joined by a New York restaurant and tavern trade association in his opposition to the program. Two senior licensing officials told the board in scathing memos dated Nov. 4 that attorney certified applications contained just as many inaccuracies and omissions as non-certified applications.
BOARD’S ACTION DOESN’T RESOLVE LEGAL QUESTION
Although the program’s fate was decided, the legal question lives on. Springer plans to appeal the board’s decision Wednesday to decline to issue a Declaratory Ruling on his legal questions about the origins of the program.
“The SLA needs new lawyers. That doesn’t pass the laugh test,” Springer said. “I predicted publicly that they’d discontinue the program but rule against me. I will get the Supreme Court to set them straight so no illegal scheme like this happens again. This program was a fraud on the people perpetuated by a state agency.”
While the board’s chairman sparred with NYC attorneys trying to save their gravy train, about 150 New York City bar and restaurant owners belonging to a Latino trade association protested outside of the Harlem offices of the SLA in New York City. In addition to the attorney certification program, the group is urging the state to change the law to allow retail license applications to operate under temporary permits while their applications are pending. Currently, state law allows only new on-premise and grocery store beer applicants located outside New York City to obtain 90-day temporary permits.
The New York City restaurant and bar owners are also asking the SLA to defer fines for COVID-related executive order violations until after the pandemic is over.
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