I am the owner of Casanova restaurant in Makawao. As you know I have been a MauiTime supporter since Issue #1 (when we were young) and exposed to Maui Liquor Commission power since 1989. Twenty-six years of Wednesday’s Ladies night (make it 1,500 of them) plus another 3,000 weekend entertainment nights. Not too bad of a record.
During all these years, I managed a handful of liquor laws violation notices (the fingers of two hands will suffice to count them all), few trials in front of the Adjudication Board, where I always played my own lawyer (I won one and lost all others…). God only knows how many times I wondered if a little oil would have greased the wheel in my favor. Maybe my Italian origins lower the bar of my concept of integrity, but not once in 26 years I was induced to understand that a few dollars here and there would have helped my case. Not once. Even a God-blessed slice of warm pizza at night is politely rejected by LC commissioners. And at 2am, that can be more desirable than a lap dance in an hostess bar!
That’s why when I see the cover of MauiTime and the title of your article suggesting that [outgoing Director Frank] Silva was leading a corrupt organization, my reaction is “Really?” (“The Barfather,” Oct. 15, 2015). Not really. The cases you list in the body of your article are, in my view, very little evidence of a systematic practice of corruption coming from the top. My 26 years of experience as a liquor license holder are a testimony of the opposite.
Not that I say that everything is right with this LC. Individual commissioners on the field often exercise their power as if the liquor license holders are enemies to be defeated, not the people who pay their salary thru their yearly dues. The trials in front of the board are a simple ratification of the will of the LC Director. The Not Guilty decisions are so rare that all lawyers involved in this business–the few of them still available for it–can name them one by one by heart for the last 20 years. Two? Three? Not more than five. Ridiculous. Or maybe, the evidence that Mr. Silva, in his wisdom, has been able to weed out all cases without meaningful evidence of guilt and send to the Board only the most obvious cases of guilt.
My personal experience is that Silva’s interpretation of the current law is that the licensee is guilty unless he proves his innocence in cases of serving underage or intoxicated patrons and that is not fair. As in all criminal trials, the prosecution should have the burden to prove that the licensee did not do his job in preventing underage drinking or drinking by intoxicated patrons and that he/she was aware of the conditions of the patrons illegally served. Again and again, I experienced rulings that, no matter how diligent my people have been, we were guilty as long as someone was found intoxicated inside the premises.
That has to change and I hope it will. I hope that Dana Souza,* whom I personally know as a very intelligent and fair man, brings a new climate in his office and let trickle down the concept that we are all in it together. None of us tries to make a buck selling that last beer that makes a young girl intoxicated. Let’s all help each other to prevent drunk driving and keep our streets safe. Most bar owners I know on Maui are very aware of their responsibility to prevent such occurrences to happen.
For everything else–and it’s a lot–it’s about changing the existing laws, which is responsibility of the County Council, not of the enforcers of the laws. My revolutionary idea is to abolish the Liquor Control Department and let the Maui PD enforce laws that punish drivers when they drive intoxicated or minors when they drink under age. Bar owners’ civil liability for such cases is more of enough of a deterrent.
Let’s open a debate in the community on reforming the existing laws and changing a climate which penalizes young people. Maui cannot only be for golfers and honeymooners, who go to sleep at 9pm. Let’s stop penalizing fun!
-Giovanni Steven Cappelli, via email
* This letter went to press before the news broke that Dana Souza declined the LC Director position. Read more about that here.
Photo of Frank Silva: Mauitime