Enforcement of the new 10 p.m. last call time for bars and restaurants to serve alcohol has been temporarily suspended after a lawsuit from multiple Athens bars.
Western Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Eric Norris ordered Friday that a new ordinance that moved last call from 2 a.m. to 10 p.m. not be enforced, according to an order by Norris given to the bar owners involved in the suit.
A lawsuit was filed yesterday by the parent companies and owners of On the Rocks, Moonshine, Buddha Bar, Centro and Cloud against each of Athens-Clarke County commissioners, the mayor and the chief of police.
“I don’t think it’s fair to single us out,” Jarrod Miller, chief operating officer of 1785 Bar and Grill, Moonshine and On The Rocks, said. “That was really the deciding factor of why bar owners came together in a way I’ve never seen bar owners do, because we’re in a highly competitive market.”
Miller said there are roughly 20 to 30 organizations — some of whom would not like to be named publicly — “who wanted to get involved in the fight.” Although they’re not listed as plaintiffs in the suit, they are contributing to the legal fees. Because of this, he said the cost has become “very, very affordable.”
In addition to preventing the last call time from being changed, these owners have also asked that the latest COVID-19 emergency ordinance extension passed on Thursday not be enforced. The state of emergency ordinance was renewed with amended language, including changing the face mask rule — the exemption for people eating or drinking would only apply if the person was seated.
The plaintiffs argue that because these ordinances are more restrictive than the state executive order by Gov. Brian Kemp, which specifically states that municipalities cannot pass stricter regulations, they cannot be enforced.
An evidentiary hearing will be held on August 6, according to Norris’ order.
“I would say that we have a strong case going into next Thursday’s hearing, based on local powers embedded in state law, the healthcare needs of the region and based on a wealth of scientific understanding,” Mayor Kelly Girtz said in a message to The Red & Black.
Bar owners expressed their displeasure at the proposed rule earlier this week when Girtz made a post on his Facebook page about the then-proposed ordinance. The commission voted on Thursday to move last call to 10 p.m., not the proposed 9 p.m. in Girtz’s post.
“You know, high school, elementary schools, middle schools and the university are about to be back in class session, so they’re going to be face-to-face, there’s going to be potential for transmission as early as 8 a.m. every day, so how does after 10 p.m. change that for adults who choose to go out?” said Miller, who said the situation has cemented his decision to get involved in politics in the future as a candidate for mayor or commissioner.