Justice prevailed for the owner of Schooter’s Bar in Winnebago when the state Court of Appeals issued a ruling in his favor on May 17.
On a 2-1 vote, a three-judge panel reversed David Schuster’s conviction for violating a city ordinance regulating liquor sales.
Under the hours and days of sale section dealing with liquor licenses, a bar may not sell alcohol after 1 a.m. on Sundays on a licensed premise.
Also, only the licensee or any employee may remain on the premises more than 30 minutes after the time when a sale can legally occur.
In a bench trial, Faribault County Judge Troy Timmerman found Schuster guilty of a petty misdemeanor and fined him $110.
Timmerman ruled because Schuster did not have a city license for Sunday liquor sales, he was not allowed to have anyone in his bar.
Schuster says hiring an attorney and appealing the verdict rather than paying a small fine was a matter of principle.
“This was a nonsense issue that should have never gone to court,” he says. “After 16 years of loyal service I have never violated the law. I don’t have a blemish on my record and wanted to keep it clean.”
Schuster was initially charged in March 2020 with violating an “executive order” that prohibited bars from being open during the coronavirus pandemic.
He was accused of being in the bar with three friends and serving them drinks on Sunday, March 22, although the doors to the bar were locked and it was closed to the public.
County Attorney Cameron Davis dismissed the charge, however, pursued the ordinance violation charge after talking with Police Chief Eric Olson.
According to the appellate judges, there’s nothing in the ordinance that prohibits a person from being on the licensed premises on a Sunday.
“The district court’s interpretation would mean that even a repairperson performing routine maintenance on a Sunday would subject the licensee to criminal liability, since that repairperson would be neither the licensee nor an employee,” the judges wrote.
“Such a result would be absurd. Those who enacted the ordinance, like the legislature, are presumed not to have intended an absurd result,” the judges concluded.
Judge Tracy Smith disagreed with the other judges saying that Timmerman applied the only reasonable interpretation of the ordinance and that it does not have to be revised to achieve its plain purpose.
She says the evident purpose is to clear out bars within 30 minutes after the lawful sale of alcohol ends and to have them remain unoccupied until alcohol sales can resume.
“The appellant (Schuster) was not licensed to sell alcohol on Sundays, yet he had guests in his bar that day. In my view, that conduct violated the ordinance, and I would affirm the district court,” she says.