An Athens County judge puts a hold on the state’s decision to strip the Smiling Skull Saloon of its liquor license

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The Smiling Skull Saloon in Athens that had its liquor license revoked last month may be able to keep it after all.

The Smiling Skull Saloon on West Union Street in Athens.
The Smiling Skull Saloon on West Union Street in Athens. [Google Maps]
The state Liquor Control Commission stripped the Smiling Skull of its license because it said the bar’s owners failed to pay a $10,000 fine on time.

The owners filed an appeal arguing they should not face losing their business because it took so long for the commission to receive the payment.

The check was sent by priority mail three days before the deadline and was supposed to arrive the next day.

But the commission says it did not receive the check until nine days later.

In a decision yesterday, Athens County Judge George McCarthy said the Smiling Skull’s owners should not be penalized for the nine days it took for the check to travel the 75 miles or so from Athens to the commission’s office in Columbus.

“Especially where it was sent by Appellant by priority mail which should have shortened the time of delivery, not lengthened it substantially,” McCarthy wrote. “The Court finds it was reasonable for Appellant to rely on the post office to deliver its payment in one day by priority mail and that it was reasonable to conclude that by doing so its permit would not be subject to forfeiture.”

McCarthy also took note of the process through which the commission receives its mail. Once mail sent to the commission arrives in Columbus, the Postal Service holds onto it until someone from the state picks up this and other mail sent to various state agencies, which then gets sorted and delivered.

“The Court is interested in knowing how does due process for the Appellant work when Appellant cannot possibly know when the Commission is going to retrieve its mail that has been delivered?” the judge wrote. “How the public is possibly supposed to anticipate when the Commission actually decides to pick up its mail is incalculable. It is also incalculable how long it takes to reach the Columbus Post office, the Commission’s employees’ desk, what pile it is placed in and when it might be opened and then stamped ‘received.’ What if the person is sick that day? What if the building is shut down for the day? What if the postal truck breaks down? What if the fire alarm is pulled unlawfully? What if there are other extenuating circumstances? Under the Commission’s position, the answer would essentially be that any such time is counted against Appellant’s deadline and that the Appellant is ‘out of luck.’”

What McCarthy’s decision means for the Smiling Skull’s owners is their license remains intact while they continue to challenge the reason they were fined by the commission in the first place.

The commission alleged several months ago that the bar, located on West Union Street, was serving alcohol even though its license was under suspension. The bar’s owners deny this.

Following a hearing on the allegations in August, the commission gave the bar’s owners a choice: They could pay $10,000 by Sept. 28 to keep the license or have it revoked. The check was mailed Sept. 25.