In court battle, oft-sanctioned Blue Light owner Brian Joyce seeks ‘justice’ for Chattanooga bars

Staff Photo by Olivia Ross / Blue Light is seen the morning of April 21.
Staff Photo by Olivia Ross / Blue Light is seen the morning of April 21.

Blue Light bar co-owner Brian Joyce lambasted the Chattanooga Beer and Wrecker Board on Friday, the third day of his court battle with the city, arguing its members don't seem to understand the codes they enforce and that they wield authority erratically.

During an often contentious cross-examination with Joyce, Chattanooga City Attorney Phil Noblett noted the several citations Blue Light has received since Joyce's bar opened in August 2021. The two parties sparred over sprawling questions like whether Joyce was responsible for security of those in line to get in to Blue Light, whether police officers had lied in testimony, whether the city collaborated with Joyce's mandated efforts to create a security plan, whether Blue Light was being targeted because of the race of its clientele and whether Joyce, who is also a talk radio host, was misrepresenting the truth during his own roughly 2 1/2 hour period on the witness stand.

Overseeing the affair, Chancellor Jeffrey Atherton frequently had to bring attorneys and witnesses back to the question at hand: Whether the Beer Board has on five different occasions under appeal sanctioned Blue Light in an arbitrary or capricious manner.

After the hearing, Joyce told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he and his lawyer, Robin Flores — who said he is working pro bono — were seeking justice for the many bar owners who have been dragged before and punished by the Beer Board, as well as his staff, security workers and himself.

The city argues Joyce has flagrantly violated city ordinances and is simply angry for not getting his way. Officials argued the Blue Light's beer permit revocation should be approved and Joyce should pay legal costs.

"Petitioner has engaged in a pattern of conduct that causes concern for the city and the Beer Board," said Kathryn McDonald of the city attorney's office, in court Tuesday.

The nightlife hub Station Street, on which Joyce's bar is located, has been in the spotlight in recent months following a string of violent incidents. Bars there were required to close earlier and restrict the carrying of open containers of alcohol after Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly issued an executive order targeting crime in the area. On Thursday, Westbound Honky-Tonk was slapped with a three-day beer suspension for disorderliness after a fight took place on its premises.

  photo  Staff Photo by Andrew Schwartz / Robin Flores addresses his client, Blue Light co-owner Brian Joyce, in Chancery Court on Friday.
 
 

In its two years in operation, Blue Light has received several sanctions — this, Joyce said, despite a cooperative spirit and an impressive security record compared to other bars in the area. Appeals on many of these sanctions have been bundled in the ongoing Chancery Court case this week.

Proceedings have featured several witnesses, from Chattanooga police officers to members of the Beer Board, a body of volunteers appointed by the City Council and empowered to grant beer licenses and rule on alleged violations of the city beer code.

On Friday, one of these members, Tiffany Bell, struggled to remember her rationale for some of the citations she voted long ago to mete to Blue Light. Flores, the Blue Light attorney, repeatedly objected with exasperation.

"It has become painfully clear," he said, "that every question counsel asks of this particular witness, she doesn't have a response."

In his questioning, Flores asked Bell if she had formal training, to which she responded the city went over information regarding open meeting laws. And he asked her about her understanding of beer codes that have been a sticking point in the case.

The Beer Board for the second time revoked Blue Light's  beer permit in June. It found Joyce did not call police when a fight broke out on the bar's premises, though Joyce maintains he didn't have to do this because the law only stipulates he has to contact police, which he said he did in person.

Blue Light appealed, and a judge restored the permit on a temporary basis, allowing the bar to resume serving beer and ordering the bar to complete the safety plan mandated following a previous mediation with the city.

Atherton, adjourning the court later Friday evening, asked the lawyers to establish a date by which they would submit further information to him. The two sides quickly agreed on a Sept. 29 deadline.

"In three days, that's the first thing that we've agreed upon," the judge said.

Ellen Gerst contributed reporting.

Contact Andrew Schwartz at aschwartz@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

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