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Cornerstone license saga continues

By Sarah M. Corigliano

Assistant Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD The Board of License Commissioners last Thursday met again regarding the disposition of the Cornerstone Lounge's liquor license.

The night's agenda included rendering a decision about the liquor license belonging to The Cornerstone Lounge on Page Boulevard.

In 2004, the Board had voted to revoke the bar's license, but the owner, James Regan, appealed to the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC), the state's governing authority on liquor licenses.

That body remanded the issue back to the Springfield Board of License Commissioners with a recommendation that a license suspension not exceed six months and that two conditions be placed on the license: that former Springfield Police Officer Vincent Savage never be allowed at The Cornerstone again, either as a patron or employee -- Savage is serving jail time on charges of drug dealing -- and to prohibit former Cornerstone manager Vincent Washington from ever entering the bar again, either as a patron or employee.

Associate City Solicitor Michael Mulcahy read the ABCC's recommendations to the Board and the 12 - 15 residents present at the meeting.

"That decision is based on the ABCC's in-person observation of how he [Washington] conducted himself in Boston and because he did have management responsibilities [during the times Savage was observed selling drugs outside of the bar]," Mulcahy explained.

He said the ABCC's condition was suggested because Washington "[failed] to prevent those acts."

"As an attorney for the Springfield Law Department, I recommend to adopt the conditions," Mulcahy added.

Regan's attorney, Thomas Rooke, addressed the Board.

Rooke said he disagreed with the rationale the ABCC used to generate the two conditions on the license. He said bar employees should not be held responsible for Savage's acts, as any citizen would expect a police officer, on duty or off, to abide by the law.

The ABCC reviewed the seven violations charged by the Springfield Board of License Commissioners in 2004 and said they could only see validating five of them, as Savage was not in uniform in those five instances and therefore may not have been known as a police officer. The other two were not considered in the ABCC's recommendations.

"If you know a person's a cop, you still respect them as a police officer," Rooke added. He also said Washington was not present at the bar on any of the seven occasions. "To hold him [Washington] responsible is without basis."

Rooke said he recommended a suspension substantially less than six months.

The Board then began to discuss their options in suspending the bar's license and placing conditions on it.

Board Chair Peter Sygnator said he felt Regan "has shown himself incapable of managing The Cornerstone," and suggested placing a third condition on the license: that upon opening after a suspension, the bar present to the Board a new manager who they find acceptable, and transfer the liquor license to that person's name.

License Commission member Mary Jenewin-Kaplan noted that the six month suspension was far less than the Board's original decision, which was a revocation of the license.

"With new blood, new management, hopefully when it reopens it will be a much better business than it currently is," Sygnator added.

Regan and Rooke left the meeting before the Board voted on the following motion:

"That the Cornerstone's liquor license be suspended for one month for each of the first four violations; two months for the fifth violation; that Vincent Washington and Vincent Savage never be allowed on the premises again; and that during the six months Regan will submit an application for a new manager of the bar which must be accepted by the local Board and the ABCC. "

The motion passed.

Residents at the meeting expressed their disappointment with the decision and said their lives are often disrupted by patrons at the bar.

Mulcahy and Board members said they need substantial evidence to issue violations and asked residents to call the police with specifics (date, time, location, and preferably identity of person involved) in order to provide adequate evidence for future disciplinary actions. Concerned citizens may also contact the East Springfield Neighborhood Council at 733-0390 and speak with Council President Kathy Brown.

One woman, who declined to give her name, said she was fearful to file complaints about the bar and the bar's patrons as she does not want the people in question to know who she is.

Another woman, who identified herself as the aunt of a young man who was murdered at a private party at the bar in the spring of 2004, said she didn't understand why that crime wasn't taken into consideration as a violation on the liquor license.

Sygnator explained that, while that case is still under investigation, it cannot yet be considered a violation.

The following Monday, Sygnator said the Board's official letter of notice to the bar had not been sent and that Regan will have 10 days from the receipt of that letter to surrender the liquor license at City Hall, as it will be suspended for six months.

Under state law, Mulcahy added, failure to surrender the license will result in a liquor license violation as well as a criminal offense.

Mulcahy added that, since Friday was Veteran's Day and a holiday, the letter was not written but that he expected it to be done and sent to the bar owner by Tuesday. However, he said Rooke and Regan had expressed the desire to file an appeal of the Board's decision in Superior Court.

"That is one of the preliminary remedies available," Mulcahy explained.

He said the next step would be to request a preliminary injunction, prohibiting the Board's and the ABCC's decisions from taking effect, with the claim being that they were based on insubstantial evidence.

A telephone call to Rooke was not immediately returned by press time.