Tavern league, Halbach take case to Supreme Court

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012
— The state Supreme Court on Wednesday will hear a lawsuit filed by a Hanover businessman over the liquor license at his strip club, and the tavern league said a ruling could have implications statewide.

The Wisconsin Tavern League has signed on as a friend of the suit involving Jim Halbach's Wisconsin Dolls near Wisconsin Dells and the town of Dell Prairie. The league said it could have special significance for places such as golf courses and resorts.

Wisconsin Dolls has been operating in the township since 2004. It received license renewals until May 2009, when a new town clerk noticed that the application defined the licensed premises as the entire eight acres, according to court documents.

The town board said the description was too vague to meet state statutes. It issued a license that restricted liquor to the main bar building and storage area.

Halbach filed suit in Adams County Court, saying the town's request to limit the area in which he could serve alcohol was the same as a non-renewal. He noted that non-renewals trigger due process hearings.

The court ruled in favor of the township, as did the appellate court.

The appellate court ruled that because Wisconsin Dolls never properly described the area in which alcohol was served, it never had a valid license.

The tavern league in its brief noted that many tavern owners in the state have licenses describing their premises using only a street address.

Those licenses could be in jeopardy under the court of appeal's decision, posing a potential for "significant mischief" throughout the state, according to a brief filed by the league.

"A licensing authority could unilaterally reduce the boundaries of a licensed premise for any reason, without first holding a due process hearing," according to the tavern league filing. "Municipalities would be free to circumvent the statutory procedural protection from non-renewal or revocation."

Halbach said he took the case to the Supreme Court because many tavern owners do not know of the ruling that could void their licenses or that a board could change the scope of their businesses without due process.

Mark Hazelbaker, the attorney representing the town, argues that licensing authorities can modify liquor licenses by changing hours or requiring security, for example, and that power was upheld in appellate court.

Cities and towns "go in and modify the circumstances under which alcohol is served all the time," he said. "You have to have the flexibility to respond to things that happen."

The town board has no desire to see Wisconsin Dolls go out of business, he said. "They just want to be able to control its expansion if it expands.

"Any time you change the physical location of a bar or the way it's laid out, it poses issues in which the town or any licensing agency wants to be involved."

A hearing is required if a town or city wants to suspend or revoke a license, he said.

"The tavern league apparently would like a situation in which anytime you want to modify the operating rules, you have to have a hearing," he said.

The appeals court issued a confusing decision when it ruled Halbach's license was void because its premise description was vague, and that must be clarified, Hazelbaker said.

The Supreme Court will issue its decision sometime before July 1.

Last updated: 8:00 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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