A group of citizens and their lawyer filed a complaint against the Trump International Hotel demanding the hotel’s liquor license be revoked. Under D.C. law, a person must be “of good character” to hold a liquor license. The argument in the lawsuit: President Trump is not a person of good character.
Some may think this is a clever way to stick it to the president, but they’re wrong. It’s a petty abuse of the law.
The complaint has no legal merit. Relying almost entirely on a 2017 Alcoholic Beverage Control Board case, In re On the Rocks LLC, the complainants argue that a liquor license applicant’s propensity for truthfulness may be considered in determining the applicant’s character. That much is true, but context is critical. In that case, a “propensity for being truthful” was a question of whether the applicant’s testimony to the board was credible, not whether the applicant was truthful generally. The board in that case made no inquiry into past acts of deception by the applicant unrelated to the distribution of alcoholic beverages, as does the complaint against the Trump hotel.
Not that it really matters. Trump may struggle with message consistency, but it’s nonsense to say that a deficiency in one factor of one element of the liquor license criteria — a deficiency that existed and was widely known when the license was granted — is suddenly adequate grounds for revocation.
Legal contortions aside, the complaint is a pathetic mélange of anti-Trump talking points and non-sequiturs, including my favorite, a due process snub that may be summarized as: “Trump has been accused of sexual assault. Liquor is sometimes involved in sexual assaults. Trump’s hotel should not have a liquor license.” The complainants also took care to file a supplemental complaint just to tout an op-ed supporting them and the many favorable online comments (“over 520”) it had garnered. Did I mention Trump knows a convicted felon? Unheard of, I’d imagine, among liquor merchants.
Of course, no anti-Trump tirade would be complete without an accusation of racism, which we are supposed to believe occurs any time Trump says something unkind about a person of color. The complainants insist Trump’s past remarks are racist as a matter of law and thus grounds to deny his business a basic commercial license.
That premise alone is questionable, but it’s also immaterial. Although racism is reprehensible, it is not within the government’s power to deny a license simply because of the licensee’s repugnant viewpoints. Slippery slopes abound — it is not hard to imagine a situation where holding traditional beliefs about human sexuality, for example, could be construed as “homophobic” or “transphobic,” and thus indicia of bad character.
Predictably, the complaint also attacks the Trump organization, emphasizing the company’s frequent involvement in civil litigation.
For any large company, lawsuits are nearly unavoidable. A simple Google search for “American Red Cross sued,” for example, yields more than 8.6 million results. C.R. Bard Inc., a medical equipment company featured on Forbes’s 2017 list of 100 Most Trustworthy Companies, has been a named party in no fewer than 211 court decisions over the past decade (never mind disputes which never made it to court). Evidence of a lawsuit — especially one involving a large commercial enterprise — is not evidence of wrongdoing, let alone bad character on the owner’s part.
It’s hard to take the complainants seriously given their silence after previous liquor license transgressions by other establishments — such as when community members complained about drugs at the Mason Inn and XO Restaurant and Lounge, which resulted in multiple arrests and the seizure of massive amounts of marijuana. Or when JR’s Bar requested its graphic designer create advertisements featuring white models. Or when women accused celebrity chef Mike Isabella, the head of a $30 million restaurant empire based in the District, of “extraordinary sex-based hostility and abuse,” including touching women without their consent and regularly calling women names. All of these establishments, as of January 2018, retain their active liquor licenses — yet there’s not been a peep from this newfangled citizen booze brigade.
I did not vote for Trump in 2016 and frequently disagree with him. But using the law as a weapon to harass a political adversary is spiteful and reflects the worst of the legal profession. ANC 2C, the Democratically led neighborhood advisory group with authority over the Trump hotel, dismissed the complaint as “overreaching” and mere “politics.”
As a lawyer, I’ll add another: embarrassing.