NEW SHOREHAM — Less than 12 hours after Block Island officials suspended Ballard’s Beach Resort’s liquor and entertainment licenses for two weeks, owner Steve Filippi had filed an appeal with the state. Filippi’s legal counsel faced the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation during an emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon.
A decision was not immediately granted by the department, but could come later this week. The suspension of the licenses remains in effect for now.
Ballard’s was open on Tuesday, though the beach was nearly empty in the middle of the afternoon. An employee said that the bar was closed and they are only serving alcohol-free cocktails. There was no sign explaining why the bar was closed.
The popular inn, restaurant, and bar on Block Island is facing backlash after a brawl at a crowded, free reggae music festival on Aug. 8 led to arrests at the venue and later on the Block Island Ferry.
Filippi did not attend the virtual hearing. Brian LaPlante of LaPlante Sowa Goldman in Cranston, who said he has represented Ballard’s for the last decade, told state officials Tuesday that the two-week suspension is “a death penalty” that would allegedly cause Ballard’s irreparable harm.
LaPlante noted that most of Ballard’s more than 100 employees are on H-2B visas, which allows US employers to bring non-citizens for temporary work.
“This two-week sanction after over a decade of no violations would force these employees to scramble and find work in this difficult time because this is the end of the season,” said LaPlante. “They will be foreclosed from forever earning the money. That will be forever lost.”
Nicholas A. Solitro of Robert E. Craven & Associates of North Kingstown, who is representing New Shoreham, said there were “masses” of people jumping over fences and entering Ballard’s property on Aug. 8 without having their IDs checked or their bags searched. Ballard’s ended the music festival an hour early, at 6 p.m., by cutting off the music and closing the bars, which Solitro said caused a “mass exodus” of attendees from the venue to the nearby ferry docks. The situation at the docks that night was described by the town’s former police captain as “chaotic.”
LaPlante said the council members on Monday night were “misguided” in suggesting that Filippi was responsible for the lines that his patrons formed at the ferry after they left Ballard’s property. He said there was one misdemeanor arrest on Ballard’s property, but claimed more issues occurred on the ferry, which is owned by Interstate Navigation.
Solitro acknowledged that while this is Ballard’s first official offense in more than 15 years, he said the event became “out-of-control,” and became unsafe for police, ferry employees, and attendees.
“This was a very unsafe situation. We simply cannot have it again,” said Solitro. “When it comes to safety versus economic [issues], I’m always going to side with the safety of the public.”
For six hours on Monday evening, the five members of the New Shoreham Town Council, who also act as the Board of License Commissioners, heard statements from lawyers, testimony from witnesses, and cross examination, and watched video footage before unanimously approving a motion to suspend Ballard’s liquor and entertainment licenses for 14 days beginning at midnight Tuesday. The suspension would prohibit Ballard’s from hosting entertainment or serving alcohol through Labor Day Weekend, one of the busiest parts of the year.
“We anticipated the Town Council’s obviously pre-scripted decision read aloud, and not even discussed by the Board of License Commissioners, after nearly five hours of live testimony at [Monday night’s] show cause hearing,” Ballard’s spokeswoman, Kimberly Poland, told the Globe in a statement Tuesday. “Ballard’s will immediately appeal the baseless decision to the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation and Superior Court.” She added that Filippi and the company had no further comment at this time.
In the appeal request filed to the state, Filippi’s lawyers called the town’s case “a witch hunt.”
This isn’t the first time that Ballard’s has faced complaints about rowdiness and intoxication at the venue this year: There have been 49 calls to police or fire service because of disorderly conduct, noise, and other issues at the venue since May 1.
Board members did not go into an executive session during the show-cause hearing, and there was little discussion among them before they voted unanimously to suspend Ballard’s licenses. LaPlante alleged the council members had a pre-determined ruling prior to Monday’s hearing. After the hearing Monday night, Filippi and his lawyers declined to comment to the Globe, though James Callaghan of Callaghan & Callaghan in North Kingstown, who also represents New Shoreham, said he expected Filippi and his team “to do something very soon.”
Filippi’s lawyers are expected to file a complaint in Superior Court, but had not yet done so by 3 p.m.
Though the license violations discussed at Monday’s show-cause hearing are considered the entertainment venue’s first offense, the town’s records show that Ballard’s had a previous show-cause hearing that resulted in action against their licenses in 2004. Ballard’s was the subject of 29 noise complaints from May 15, 2004, to July 19, 2004, including 10 complaints on July 19, 2004, alone, according to town records. The Town Council approved sanctions on Ballard’s during a show-cause hearing on July 28, 2004, including suspending their liquor license for 24 hours in early August 2004, and their outdoor entertainment license from midnight on Aug. 6 through midnight on Aug. 12. But the day before the suspensions were to begin, Ballard’s filed a complaint in the Superior Court for Washington County, seeking a temporary restraining order from the decision.
The town and Ballard’s reached a settlement agreement at the time, according to records, which dismissed the complaints and legally wiped out any record of Ballard’s facing action on their licenses by the town.
Read the Appellant’s Emergency Motion to Stay and Ballard’s Objection to Motion for Stay below:
This article has been updated with reporting from the emergency meeting of the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation, and a description of the scene at Ballard’s Tuesday afternoon.
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