By MIKE DONOGHUE
MONTPELIER – Lawyers for the Backstage Pub & Restaurant and the Vermont Liquor Control Department have until June 1 to file proposed findings on whether the Essex bar should have its licenses suspended or revoked.
Norman Blais, the lawyer for bar owner Vincent Dober Sr., maintained during a state liquor board hearing last week that his client was unfairly charged.
The board voted 3-0 to dismiss one of three misconduct charges against Dober, this one saying he failed to provide an alcohol breath test when requested by a Vermont Liquor Control investigator on April 28.
VLCB member Tom Lauzon noted the board had earlier imposed a special condition that Dober, when working, provide a breath test when requested by law enforcement.
Dober, 53, of Burlington testified he was not working that night and was actually outside waiting for a ride when a liquor investigator stopped at the bar.
Investigator Jay Clark testified he received two anonymous texts that Dober was intoxicated at his bar at 60 Pearl St. that night. Clark, an investigator for 16 years and a former Milton police officer, also testified Dober failed to provide a sufficient breath sample when asked several times to blow into the testing device.
Dober’s eyes were watery and bloodshot, he smelled of intoxicants, his speech heavily slurred and he was unsteady on his feet, Clark said.
When asked for the breath test, Dober responded, “I don’t want to do that,” Clark told the board. Reminded about the special condition on his license, Dober said, “Let me play,” Clark said. Clark said he responded, “This is not a game.”
The breath test condition was added to Dober’s liquor license last month following an incident in February when Dober was found tending bar with a blood-alcohol level of .172 percent. Dober paid a $350 fine for being impaired and for overserving a patron that night, records show.
Dober said he didn’t give the breath test in April because he was sick and had difficulty breathing. He said he’d vomited and took medicine that day but continued to cough.
Dober said he went to the emergency room the next day, which Blais backed up with a medical report from the UVM Medical Center, showing Dober was treated for bronchitis, fluid in his lungs and upper respiratory issues.
Still unresolved before the liquor board are two other charges: that Dober was overserved and allowed to remain on the premises that night, and an unrelated charge of failing to disclose misdemeanor criminal convictions in New York last fall related to unlawfully possessing firearms and a high capacity magazine.
Dober said he has never run afoul with the liquor control department. He said as a former city councilor in Burlington, he headed the liquor license committee. He said he has owned the bar for almost five years, but it is struggling.
“The bar is not making any money,” Dober told the board.
Dober said he believed he had three draft beers between 5:45 and 9:30 p.m., but a bartender thought there was a fourth.
The board will issue a written order once both sides submit legal arguments.
The gun violations related to a Sept. 20, 2017 incident when a Vermont state trooper attempted to stop Dober on Vermont 17 near the Champlain Bridge. Dober continued over the bridge and stopped on the New York side, where a Vermont trooper issued him two tickets and alerted New York State police to the firearms.
Police found numerous guns, including an AR-15, 40-caliber carbine and several handguns, in his truck; two of them were loaded.
Dober testified he thought he was charged with six felonies and seven misdemeanors in New York, but in the end, he was convicted of two misdemeanors and an alcohol violation. He said he was a longtime marksman and was headed to a shooting competition in Akron, Ohio.
Dober told the board he believes his blood-alcohol level then was .057 percent, and he plead to a civil alcohol driving violation in New York.
“I did get all my guns back,” Dober testified. “It’s embarrassing.”
The state maintains Dober, while he did note on his liquor license renewal that he had some legal problems last fall, never indicated the court or the violations. Dober said he assumed Vermont liquor control would be run a full criminal check because of the notation.
The Essex Selectboard renewed Backstage’s license but said it would hold a hearing on possible discipline due to town police’s concerns with the venue.
Essex police say there were 26 offenses between Jan. 1, 2017 and April 4, 2018 that generated some kind of police response to Backstage, including at least seven documented cases of driving under the influence.
The other complaints include five assaults, two disorderly conduct, nine intoxicated persons and one non-fatal drug overdose, police said.