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Scary Letters from the ABC

In honor of Halloween, we’re writing about a very scary letter alcoholic beverage licensees in California sometimes receive. The letter is from the local alcoholic beverage control (ABC) office, and usually says something like “Dear Licensee: An appointment has been made for you to discuss an important matter concerning your alcoholic beverage license. The appointment is scheduled for October 31, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. at the office indicated above. Sincerely, an ABC District Administrator.”

This letter is referred to as a “309” letter. If you receive it you have reason to be scared, because the letter typically precedes a disciplinary accusation filed against your license. You should expect a letter like this a few weeks after a sale to a minor decoy, but you should be especially wary if you receive the letter and have no knowledge of any cause for discipline. By the time the ABC sends you a 309 letter, it is probably already set on filing an accusation, so attending the meeting to find out about the “important matter” will rarely change its course. However, at this stage the accusation has not yet been filed and it is possible the licensee may be able to describe extenuating circumstances and avoid an accusation – instead, perhaps getting a warning letter inserted in the licensee’s ABC file. But, this is unusual. Typically if the ABC feels it has sufficient evidence to support an accusation, it will file one. If you believe your situation merits explanation, you may wish to attend the meeting. The ABC will sometimes agree to conduct it by telephone. If you do elect to attend the 309 meeting, in person or by phone, be aware that anything you say at the meeting can be used against you. If you’d prefer not to attend the meeting, you can call in advance of the meeting and request that the ABC send you the accusation paperwork. In any case, we recommend you respond to the ABC’s letter and make it clear that you are a conscientious licensee who is concerned about maintaining your license.

Collect as much information about any potential cause for discipline as soon as you can. Has law enforcement been by your premises? Has a neighbor been complaining? Do you have video of any suspicious activity? If your budget permits, you should also speak to an attorney who can help you with the legal filings, particularly if you have a history of discipline as the penalties get larger for repeat offenses. Take immediate steps to prevent the problem from repeating.

In our experience, most ABC accusations result from licensee mistakes and are resolved by payment of a fine and the implementation of steps to avoid a repeat violation. However, there are occasions when the accusations and penalties are more serious, and on those occasions you could be at risk of license suspension or revocation.

Contact one of the attorneys at Strike Kerr & Johns if you have questions about your 309 letter.

Alcohol.law Digest is published for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Copyright © 2012 · All Rights Reserved ·


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