Thoughts From The Publisher’s Desk

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There are too many reasons to list here why Worcester County should not be in the liquor business, but it appears yet another has surfaced — it’s being a bully by looking to hurt small business.

The county made it clear this week it wants to squash a redevelopment plan in West Ocean City by a respected business. Dave and Sara Hambury have owned the Green Room near Route 611 for the last 13 years. When the Department of Liquor Control (DLC) announced plans to shutter its West Ocean City store neighboring the Green Room in favor of a new flagship store a few miles to the west, the Hamburys filed an obvious request to upgrade their existing license to sell liquor by expanding the store into the former DLC space.

The county is always quick to ridicule the state for its unfair treatment of the lower shore when it comes to the distribution of funding and heavy-handed governance, but the county in this case is following the state’s lead. The county is looking to ruin a local small business, which simply recognizes that it needs to offer liquor to stay in business to complement its beer and wine operation. All of this is being done in the name of competition behind the smokescreen that there is no “need” in the area.

Make no mistake, the county is opposing this upgrade at the Board of License Commissioners meeting next week because it wants to meet certain financial goals at its new store and fears the competition. Here we have the classic David vs. Goliath with the government looking to flex its muscles and scare the BLC into thinking the county’s booze operation’s sales will tank if this local couple gets to sell liquor.

The fact is the Green Room will have to buy liquor from the county and then apply a mark-up. Therefore, there is no question the county has the upper hand on the competition side. It will be able to offer a fifth of Jim Beam at a lower cost than the private business, which has to purchase it from the county and then up the cost to cover its business expenses. If people want to pay less to buy their liquor, they can drive to the county’s flagship store. If they want the convenience and prefer supporting a local family rather than giving government more of their money, they will pick the Green Room. I would side with the private sector every time, and the BLC should allow the public the opportunity to make that choice. Here’s to hoping the BLC sees it that way. It’s the only fair decision in this case.

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When my jury duty notice for April came in the mail a couple months ago, I figured the chances of me being selected were slim as a result of my day job and familiarity with police investigations and criminal charges.

The judge and the attorneys involved apparently did not care one bit that I worked in the newspaper industry and recognized the defendant’s name and knew about the drug distribution charges filed against him and the particulars in the case. Therefore, I figure the parties involved will be equally apathetic about me writing about the case I was selected to serve on.

I will leave out the names of those involved, but this was basically an undercover narcotics case. It involved police using an earlier arrest of a man on drug distribution charges to try and land a bigger fish in the drug trade. The man was arrested a week before the incident in question at trial and reportedly struck a deal with the state to try and land the so-called “middle man” in the local cocaine trade. The alleged “middle man” was the defendant in this case.

The undercover officer met the man at the Starbucks in West Ocean City and gave him $100. The man then allegedly went across Route 50 to a store in the outlet center and met up with the defendant in the case to presumably get the cocaine. However, proving that was another matter in court, as the defense attorney successfully objected at least six times to the prosecutor’s line of questioning directed at the undercover police officer. Specifically under attack was the undercover cop who was conducting surveillance outside the outlet store from a vehicle. From his vantage point, he reported in court watching the defendant pull up in front of the store in question and reported he met up with the man working for the state.

The defense attorney asked him whether the police were watching the back door of the store, how many people were in store at that time and if the store’s surveillance video had been viewed. This was all done to paint the picture there was no way to prove the defendant provided the man, who was working with the state as part of an earlier plea deal, with the cocaine that was eventually given to the undercover officer because he never saw it with his own eyes.

The defense attorney at one time questioned whether the officer was aware the store had surveillance video inside it. The officer said no. The defense attorney then provided him with an article from this newspaper (publication name was used — blush, blush) that included a video surveillance image from a recent high-profile inside theft case.

After about 30 minutes of testimony, the defense attorney motioned for an acquittal. The attorneys approached the bench and the judge agreed to grant the acquittal before the jury was ever handed the case. The judge made the right call because the state had not met its burden of proof.

It was an interesting few hours and I left with $25 in cash from the county. That was last Wednesday, and I went back again yesterday.

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