Judge rules New Kensington Elks can renew its liquor license
A Westmoreland County judge overruled a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board decision last year that rejected the license renewal for the Elks Club in New Kensington.
In a ruling made public Tuesday, Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Harry Smail Jr. found that evidence of repeated citations and criminal activity at or near the Elks Lodge 294 on Third Avenue were insufficient grounds to support the liquor board’s decision last year to not renew the club’s license.
Smail ruled that citations filed against the club for serving alcohol to nonmembers were, in many cases, outdated, with many having occurred in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The judge also found that criminal incidents that included shootings, disturbances and other potential criminal activity were either minimal or did not directly implicate the club.
“This court cannot find the listed incidents of disturbances to be a basis for non-renewal of the IBPOE’s license where substantial evidence suggests that significant remedial measures have been taken and by all accounts have been consistently complied with by the IBPOE,” Smail wrote. “The court does not find that blame for the listed disturbances falls on the conduct of the IBPOE in conducting its business; the IBPOE has seriously attempted to address the problems addressed herein.”
New Kensington police officers at a hearing in June testified that one incident took place in January 2017, when shots were fired in an area near the club.
In another case, police officers testified they recovered 11 shell casings in the club’s parking lot after reports that shots were fired in October 2016.
Officers testified they were called out to the club last November to respond to a call that shots were fired and two shell casings were found in or near the Elks parking lot, according to court records.
According to the state’s liquor board, the club’s alcohol license expired June 20, 2018. According to Elks attorney Chris Nichols, the club has remained open and continued to operate with a temporary license during its appeal.
“We argued that the club should retain its license because of the benefit it brings to the community,” Nichols said. “It is a benevolent organization, and what it gives back to the community outweighed whatever issues they were having.”
Liquor control board spokesman Shawn Kelly said the agency can appeal Smail’s ruling to state Commonwealth Court.
“We will review the case and make a determination at a future time,” Kelly said about a potential appeal.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .