Mistrial a blow for Seattle club sting
Last year's controversial sting of Seattle's nightclubs suffered another setback Thursday, when a judge declared a mistrial in the cases...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Last year's controversial sting of Seattle's nightclubs suffered another setback Thursday, when a judge declared a mistrial in the cases of two employees of Ibiza Dinner Club.
The trial unraveled after Seattle Municipal Court Judge Michael Hurtado determined that the defense's key witness, club owner Abi Eshagi, hadn't been advised before trial that his testimony could be used against him.
Defense attorneys maintained that prosecutors should have advised him of that, while prosecutors said doing so was the job of the defense.
After being read his Miranda rights by Deputy City Attorney Derek Smith, Eshagi asked to consult his attorney. But the attorney couldn't be reached despite calls by Hurtado and Eshagi, and Hurtado declared a mistrial.
A new pretrial hearing date was set for July. Defense attorneys say a second trial could amount to double jeopardy and be barred.
It was the latest setback for the police sting, "Operation Sobering Thought," whose timing, expense and tactics have been roundly criticized by the nightclub industry and staunchly defended by City Attorney Tom Carr.
Undercover police reported that they got minors served alcohol at 14 of 15 clubs in August. The sting ended on a busy Saturday night with the arrests of 15 bartenders and bouncers who were then booked into jail so late that they had to spend the night. Normally, state liquor board agents issue citations in such cases, treating them as violations rather than crimes.
The next morning, Carr announced the sting's results at a hastily arranged news conference and urged a divided City Council to support Mayor Greg Nickels' proposal to license nightclubs. The sting's timing prompted critics to say it was politically motivated, an accusation Carr has vigorously denied.
"I had long since given up on the council doing anything useful with nightlife," Carr said in a recent interview, recalling his thinking at the time.
A total of 27 individuals were charged with letting a minor into a tavern, serving a minor or serving an intoxicated person.
Carr said he would seek the maximum penalty of 20 days in jail for all but two defendants, who were charged with allowing a gun into a club. In those cases, he said he would seek up to a year in jail.
But it hasn't worked out that way. By the start of this week, 24 of the cases had been resolved, none resulting in jail sentences, according to court records. The vast majority of defendants entered agreements in which the charge would be wiped from their record if they met certain conditions; a few had their cases dismissed entirely; and one was quickly found not guilty.
Smith said last week that prosecutors largely backed away from jail time after learning more about the defendants, who for the most part had no criminal backgrounds and had compelling stories.
In Thursday's cases, however, Smith was pursuing convictions because the two bar workers — bartender Annamarie Honnold and doorman Lenhart Silk — had refused to take a deal.
The mistrial came soon after the defense began presenting its side.
After declaring the mistrial, Hurtado delivered another surprise, saying he would assign the case to another judge. Defense attorneys had questioned his role as trial judge from the beginning because Hurtado is the judge who signed arrest warrants in the sting last year.
One of Carr's most trusted deputies, Smith said in a recent interview that he's satisfied the sting accomplished its goal: getting clubs to be more vigilant about enforcing liquor rules.
But he wouldn't want to see bar workers rounded up and arrested next time.
"We wouldn't do that again," he said. "It just didn't serve its purpose. That's a lesson we learned, too."
Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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