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There's no butts about it
No more smoking in Decatur bars; judge rules in favor of city officials

By Sheryl Marsh 340-2437

There will be no more smoking in three bars in Decatur after owners lost their battle against city officials in Morgan County Circuit Court.

Circuit Judge Sherrie Paler granted the city's motion to dismiss a case brought by Attorney Catherine Halbrooks for Jerry Nash, owner of Nash Bar and Grill; Jeffrey Hitt, owner of Frontier Entertainment; and Steven Torbert, owner of TK's Bar.

The bars continued to allow smoking after others complied with the city's smoke-free ordinance.

Halbrooks alleged in a petition asking for an injunction against Mayor Don Kyle and the City Council that city leaders superseded federal and state laws. She argued during a hearing Wednesday that state law excludes bars from the Clean Indoor Air Act.

Attorney Mark Craig, special counsel to the city, argued the plaintiffs had no standing because the city ordinance banning smoking did not cause them harm.

Halbrooks countered that her clients would be harmed financially by the ordinance because they may have to hire additional personnel for security if patrons have designated smoking areas outside.

Also, she said, there is a reason the state law excluded bars.

"That reason being the very nature of their business," Halbrooks said. She said children are not allowed in bars, only adults.

'No fundamental right'

Craig countered, "There is no fundamental right to smoke in a public place."

He said the plaintiffs had no standing, meaning they don't have reason or basis for the litigation.

Paler ruled that she didn't find the plaintiffs had standing and said the ordinance had not harmed the businesses. The bars must comply with the ordinance.

Halbrooks refused to comment on the ruling. One of her clients said they plan to have a meeting about what to do next.

Craig said he is pleased with the judge's ruling. He said the plaintiffs have a right to appeal the decision within 30 days.

In September, when Halbrooks filed the petition seeking an injunction against city officials, Paler issued a temporary restraining order allowing the three businesses to continue to allow smoking. The restraining order is no longer in effect.

The City Council majority passed the ordinance in August. It went into effect Oct. 1 and prohibits smoking in public places, including recreational facilities.

Decatur is now smoke-free like six other smaller cities in the state.

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