Judge: Liquor license should have been granted in Whiteclay

Published November 17, 2004
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

LINCOLN, Neb. – The son of a one-time Whiteclay beer store owner should have been granted a liquor license to run the family business in the border town, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Lancaster County District Judge Jeffre Cheuvront overturned an April decision of the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission denying Jason Schwarting’s application for a license to sell beer from the Arrowhead Inn.

Unless the state appeals within 30 days, the license will be granted and the number of beer stores in Whiteclay, located near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, will increase from three to four.

An appeal is being considered, said Hobert Rupe, executive director of the commission.

In his order, Cheuvront said given the likelihood of an appeal, the final word in the case probably will come from the state Court of Appeals or Supreme Court.

Schwarting’s attorney, Andrew Snyder of Scottsbluff, said his client was pleased with the decision and looking forward to starting up the family business again. The Arrowhead Inn has been run by the Schwarting family since 1980.

The liquor commission denied Jason Schwarting’s application on the grounds that he was not fit or willing to confirm to the rules and regulations of the commission based on two prior liquor law violations. It also believed there was a hidden ownership arrangement with his father, Don Schwarting.

Don Schwarting lost the license to run the Arrowhead Inn in March after he was convicted of a felony for selling cars without a license. State law does not allow a convicted felon to hold a liquor license.

Cheuvront said in his ruling that there was no evidence to support the conclusion that Jason Schwarting had a hidden arrangement with his father.

“Any conclusion that Donald retains an ownership in the business would be pure conjecture,” Cheuvront said.

Cheuvront also determined that there was not enough evidence to find that Jason Schwarting was not of good character or reputation to warrant denial of the license.

The main objections made to granting Jason Schwarting the liquor license revolved around the general issue of beer sales in Whiteclay, the judge said. That is an issue for the Legislature to determine, not the courts, he said.

“It is clear that there is a substantial amount of what might be termed political pressure or interest in regard to the issue of liquor sales in Whiteclay present in this case,” Cheuvront said.

Beer stores in the border town of Whiteclay have been under attack by activists for years. The stores cater primarily to American Indians living on the reservation where alcohol is banned.

The notion that the liquor commission didn’t have a reason to deny the license is “completely laughable,” said Mark Vasina, president of Nebraskans for Peace. The group has fought for years against beer sales in Whiteclay.

When the liquor commission denied the license application, the number of beer stores dropped from four to three.

Thomas Bernard of Chadron is also seeking a liquor license to open a new beer store in Whiteclay. His request was denied by the liquor commission in August but he is pursuing a new application that currently is pending before the Sheridan County Board.

Should the Cheuvront decision stand and Bernard’s request ultimately be granted by the liquor commission, there would be five liquor licenses in Whiteclay.

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