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Published: Saturday, 1/15/2005

Bar owners pay court costs in smoking cases

Jim Avolt, owner of The Distillery, approached the counter in Toledo Municipal Court yesterday and paid out $78 for court costs associated with a smoking ban violation against his bar last summer.

But for Mr. Avolt and fellow owners Bill Delaney and Brad Krieger, the money was a small price to pay to end a longtime battle with the city, they said.

The owners of The Distillery, 4311 Heatherdowns Blvd.; Delaney's Lounge, 309 West Alexis Rd., and Brad's Place, 5801 Telegraph Rd., pleaded no contest yesterday to violating the city's smoking ban, each for infractions from last summer. Also, charges against eight patrons caught smoking at area bars during police raids were dismissed. Each was ordered to pay $78 in court costs.

The pleas marked the end of smoking-related violations for the three bar owners who opposed the ban enacted by city council in August, 2003. The law changed, effective Jan. 1, after voters approved an amendment to the city's smoking ban on the November ballot.

"The whole process was a difficult one," Mr. Avolt said. "The new compromise law works for all of Toledo, not just the anti-smokers. We hope the state of Ohio follows our lead and adopts sensible smoking regulations."

The new law allows smoking in bingo parlors, bowling alleys, bars that receive less than 35 percent of their gross revenue from food sales, and restaurants with nine or fewer employees.

There are still a few cases pending before Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell, including one against the owners of Jo-Jo's Original Pizzeria, attorney Joseph Loeffler said.

Mr. Loeffler said the bar owners in yesterday's cases could have fought the violations because they were a result of a police raid on the establishments. He said that he would have argued in court that those raids should have been conducted by the city's environmental services team and not police, as was stated in the law.

"The bar owners are saying we'll take responsibility and leave the customers alone," Mr. Loeffler said. "They could have fought this, and they chose not to."

John Madigan, the city's chief counsel who handled the cases, could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Delaney, who faced three charges yesterday - two of which were dismissed, said that the bar owners decided to "protect" their customers by entering into a deal with the city.

He added that although yesterday marked the conclusion of smoking-related charges against him, it doesn't mean his involvement in smoking issues has ended.

"We're trying to work with other communities to do the same thing. We want to stay on top of this thing," he said.

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