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Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game celebration should be as big of a party night as any Saturday in Atlanta, following a Fulton, Ga., judge’s ruling Wednesday. After years of being forced to shut down on Sundays, Atlanta bars can serve alcohol that day, after a Fulton judge enjoined enforcement of state and city laws that prohibit Sunday sales of liquor by the drink. Fulton Superior Court Judge Marvin S. Arrington Sr. granted a request made by 10 local bars to enjoin Atlanta and the state from enforcing Sunday alcohol sale laws because they violate equal protection rights. Arrington ruled from the bench at a Jan. 30 hearing, and issued a written order Wednesday. The law, Arrington wrote, permits some businesses such as sports arena vendors, festivals, hotels, restaurants and bowling alleys, “to essentially operate bars on Sunday.” Yet, he added, the law “prohibits Plaintiffs Atlanta bars from engaging in the exact same activity.” The laws, he concluded, “deny Plaintiffs equal protection of the law and [are] therefore unconstitutional.” Arrington denied a motion by the city of Atlanta to stay his ruling pending an appeal. Plaintiffs’ attorney Glenn Zell said the ruling right now applies to Atlanta bars and adult establishments that serve liquor and also “flows to the bars in Fulton County,” since Arrington is a Fulton judge. The Georgia Supreme Court could issue a stay pending an appeal, but plaintiffs’ lawyers said, even if it does, they’re confident that the justices will affirm Arrington’s ruling. The bars filed suit against the state and the city of Atlanta in August seeking a finding that the state and corresponding city laws governing Sunday alcohol sales were unconstitutional. They complained that restaurants, festivals, stadiums, hotels and bowling alleys in the metro area are allowed to serve drinks on Sundays, but not bars. The Heretic v. State, No. 2002VCV57304 (Fult. Super. Aug. 21, 2002). ZELL: HOLDOVERS FROM BLUE LAWS Plaintiffs’ attorney Zell said the laws, holdovers from the days of Sunday blue laws, had evolved as the metro area grew, adding numerous exceptions, to the point where “everybody could sell liquor on Sunday but the bars.” The current state of affairs is “clearly a denial of equal protection,” he said. Zell, of Atlanta’s Zell & Zell, said Arrington’s ruling clearly applies to Fulton County, since he is a Fulton judge. Many of the exemptions in the statute Arrington voided apply only in the metro area. Local bar owners are excited, Zell said, although he added that “I wouldn’t recommend a bar opening up in Henry County” just yet. He said he expects the state to seek a stay of the ruling during appeal. Russell D. Willard, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, which defended the case on behalf of the state, confirmed that Arrington ruled for the plaintiffs, but declined further comment. Arrington found two state statutes and corresponding city ordinances unconstitutional. One state law, O.C.G.A. � 3-3-20, prohibits all Sunday sales of alcohol statewide unless specifically provided by law. But county or municipal governments can legalize liquor-by-the-drink sales by referendum. O.C.G.A. � 3-3-7 sets out exemptions to the prohibition for various communities, based on population. Those exemptions, which apply to areas with specific populations, authorize local governments to allow certain limited sales of liquor by the drink. In Atlanta that means that stadiums, coliseums and auditoriums that hold more than 3,500 people, festivals, bowling alleys, hotels and establishments which derive at least 50 percent of their annual gross income from the sale of food, can all serve alcoholic beverages on Sunday. In other cities around the state, some exemptions may apply while others do not. THREE ATLANTA BARS FIRST TO SUE Three Atlanta bars were the first plaintiffs to sue in August — The Heretic, located on Cheshire Bridge Road, Bulldogs, located in Midtown and The New Order, located near Ansley Mall. Seven more bars were added a month later as plaintiffs. The complaint asked that the state and city laws that kept them from selling drinks on Sunday be declared unconstitutional and that the state and city of Atlanta be enjoined from enforcing them. The bars were represented by Zell and Michael Clutter, an attorney who owns Bulldogs. The attorneys argued that there was no rational basis to prohibit bars from Sunday sales while permitting numerous other businesses to sell that day. They added that the law didn’t even require restaurant-bars to serve food on Sunday, just to have the minimum percentage of annual revenue in food. Bars, they wrote, “are in reality, the exception.” They also made, then abandoned, a claim that the laws violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution because they were based on Christian religious doctrine. They originally asked for damages and fees, but dropped those demands when attorneys for the state raised the issue of sovereign immunity. The state’s brief argued that not only the damages claim but “any effort to bring claims against the State for alleged denials of due process and equal protection under Georgia law is barred by sovereign immunity.” The state lawyers argued that if one or more of the exemptions to Sunday sales were declared unconstitutional, only the local government’s authority to permit Sunday sales under those conditions would be affected. That wouldn’t affect the general prohibition in � 3-3-20. ‘SUBSTANTIAL INTEREST’ They also argued that the laws have a rational purpose in that Georgia has a “substantial interest in the regulation of alcoholic beverages” as a matter of public welfare. The Legislature evidently concluded that some local governments should be allowed to permit sales in certain circumstances to promote entertainment and tourism, they wrote, adding that Georgia courts have ruled that such determinations should not be disturbed when the laws are reasonably related to the public peace, welfare and safety. Zell and Clutter countered in their brief that “Even if this is so, however, this greater interest does not allow the State to violate the due process or equal protection rights guaranteed under the Georgia Constitution and the Constitution of the United states. The mere fact that the product is alcohol cannot protect a statutory scheme which is ‘patently discriminatory.’” Zell said that he didn’t ask Arrington to void only the exemptions because that would have left intact the general statewide ban on all Sunday sales. Rather, he asked Arrington to enjoin the state and city from enforcing the laws that kept bars from Sunday sales. “The other way, nobody could sell liquor and what good would that do us?” he said. His co-counsel Clutter said he was pleased by the ruling. He said the laws’ different rules for bars and other establishments such as hotels created “outrageous” distinctions. He said the ruling should free law enforcement from having to scrutinize the revenues of businesses that sell liquor and should bring in additional tax revenues for government.

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