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Judge takes a stand on liquor offenses

April 07, 2000|By MARLO BARNHART

Washington County Circuit Judge Don Beachley put the Liquor Board on notice Thursday that politics would not play a role in punishment meted out for selling alcohol to minors.

Beachley granted probation before judgment to Zachary Changuris, 21, of Hagerstown, who appealed a lower court conviction for selling a six-pack of beer to a 19-year-old Maryland State Police cadet on Sept. 9 at Coach's Liquors on Old National Pike.

A probation before judgment sentence means the Board of License Commissioners for Washington County, known as the Liquor Board, cannot take action against the owner of Coach's Liquors for the infraction, according to current Maryland law as it applies to Washington County.

"I understand the Liquor Board's concern but it strikes this court as grossly unfair to use an employee as a pawn in a political struggle," Beachley said, vowing not to let politics influence him. "This is a legislative matter, clearly."

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In granting probation before judgment to Changuris, Beachley relieved him of a criminal record just one month before his graduation from Shepherd College.

"I'm pleading guilty but I'd like to go into the job market with a clean record," Changuris said.

Beachley placed Changuris on probation for one year. The maximum possible penalty could have been up to two years in jail and/or a $1,000 fine if convicted.

Last fall, a countywide sting operation netted just over a dozen arrests from visits to 39 establishments after cadets under drinking age were sent into the establishments to see if identification was required before liquor was sold.

The first few defendants, all first-time offenders, received probation before judgment in Washington County District Court, according to court records.

It was then the Liquor Board began to push for convictions and not probation before judgment, according to Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Duane Gigeous.

On Monday, Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick Wright found Jerry W. Pittsnogle guilty of selling alcohol to minors.

Pittsnogle, 52, of 11234 Hollywood Road, was also there on appeal from the lower court, for a Sept. 15 offense at Washington Center Liquors. He was fined $185.

"It's politics," Gigeous said. "The Liquor Board needs to have convictions so they can attack the liquor licensee."

Defense attorney Bruce Poole said there is dissatisfaction with the current legislative policy, alluding to efforts to get it changed.

But John Salvatore, attorney for the liquor board, said attempts made every year for several years to get the law changed were unsuccessful.

Contacted in the courthouse outside the Changuris hearing, Salvatore said he couldn't understand why Washington County is still bound by that law's limitations.

"Other counties have gotten the exception to the probation before judgment rule," Salvatore said.

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