LEWISTON — A District Court judge heard oral arguments Tuesday on the Carriage House Cafe’s appeal of the state’s decision to deny a liquor license to the Livermore restaurant and owner.

When arguments concluded, Judge Susan Oram said she will issue a written decision on the case.

Restaurant owner Michael Weaver’s attorney, David Austin, argued that Weaver had a liquor license for 11 years and filled out the application about the same each year.

The Livermore Board of Selectpersons voted 3-2 on Nov. 3, 2014, to deny Weaver’s application to renew his license. It based the decision on Weaver not completely filling out the section about having criminal convictions, according to town documents.

The town sent a letter to Weaver on Nov. 4, 2014, notifying him of the denial and, on the same day, sent a letter to the state notifying it that there had been no complaints or major offenses at the restaurant since it opened, Austin said.

Weaver appealed the decision to the Maine Bureau of Alcohol Beverages & Lottery Operations. A hearing was held Feb. 19. Timothy R. Poulin, deputy director of the bureau, issued a denial of the license renewal on May 11.  He wrote that he was not persuaded by clear and convincing evidence that the decision to deny approval based on the law was without justifiable cause.

“Evidence of Mr. Weaver’s felony convictions alone supports the selectmen’s denial of the application under this section. Moreover, this same evidence of multiple felony convictions supports a finding under (the law). I also find that Mr. Weaver’s failure to answer Question 13 on his application that he submitted to the selectmen, and his failure to provide selectmen with the details of his criminal history after being requested to do so . . . is additional evidence that supports denial (under law),” Poulin stated.

Austin argued Tuesday that the town changed procedures after having granted Weaver’s applications in the past.

He also argued that under the Administrative Procedure Act, which establishes the statutory standard for consideration of an applicant’s criminal record as part of the application process for an occupational license, registration or permit issued by the state, that Weaver’s criminal history no longer applied. According to the act, the consideration of prior criminal convictions as an element of fitness to practice the licensed profession, trade or occupation shall apply within three years of the applicant’s or licensee’s final discharge, if any, from the correctional system.

The town and state put emphasis on Weaver’s criminal history in denying the license renewal, Austin said. He had nine felony convictions, the majority of them in the 1980s and one in 2001, along with a misdemeanor, he said.

Weaver told selectpersons previously that the aggravated drug charge in 2001 was elevated because of prior convictions.

Weaver’s convictions were in connection with drug trafficking, receiving stolen goods and possession of a firearm, according to the state’s written denial of Weaver’s liquor license.

“He paid a penalty” for those convictions, including incarceration, Austin said. “He has paid his debt to society,” he said.

Weaver has borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest in the restaurant that is his livelihood, he said.  

Austin also noted that he picked up on it late but, during the state’s hearing, the assistant attorney general who was supposed to be providing advice to the hearing officer, became an advocate for the state during the process. He claimed there were 127 questions made by the state’s attorney.

Assistant Attorney General Michelle Robert, who acted as legal counsel during the state’s hearing and represented the bureau Tuesday, said the decision by the municipality was to deny the application. The bureau upheld the decision.

The municipality sent a letter to Weaver citing the reasons they did not approve the license, she said. 

The section on occupational licenses in the Administrative Procedure Act is not related to a liquor license, she said.

Liquor is a controlled substance that may not be sold by a person unless the person qualifies and is licensed by the bureau. It is a liquor license not an occupational license, Robert said.

Even though Weaver’s criminal record dates back several years, there is no limitation on the time frame beyond which those crimes committed by the applicant may not be considered by the municipality, according to a state document.

Robert said the state’s legal counsel does not act as an advocate during a bureau hearing. They ask for clarifications and advise the hearing officer on procedural issues, she said. 

Robert also said there is a new application each year and each year it is taken on its own by a municipality. In this case, selectmen did not have complete answers to Question 13, she said.

There were no new rules or regulations applied, she said. They just applied the rules in place to the new application, she said.

The town’s administrative assistant, Carrie Castonguay, who had just started with the town at the time of the renewal hearing, said at the time the board was taking corrective action.

Town attorney Michael Hodgins said Tuesday that the town should not be named in the appeal because it did not take final action.

A motion to dismiss the town from the case was filed, he said.

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