LINCOLN — The lack of law enforcement in the unincorporated village of Whiteclay, Nebraska, has allowed “epidemic” liquor-related problems rivaling “Chicago in the Roaring Twenties,” the Nebraska Supreme Court was told Monday.
Attorneys for the State Liquor Control Commission submitted written legal arguments on Monday to support the commission’s decision in April to shut down the beer stores in the northwest Nebraska border town.
That decision was nullified April 27 by Lancaster County District Judge Andrew Jacobsen, which prompted an appeal the same day by the State Attorney General’s Office. That appeal superseded the judge’s order until a higher court could hear an appeal, leaving the stores without liquor licenses as of May 1, forcing them to close.
The four beer stores sold the equivalent of 3.5 million cans of beer a year, earning Whiteclay the nickname “Skid Row of the Plains.” Almost all the sales were to residents of the adjacent Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, across the state line in South Dakota. Alcohol is officially banned on the reservation, but liquor-related crime and health problems, such as alcoholism and fetal alcohol syndrome, are rampant.
Native American activists and advocates for children had been seeking for years to get the Whiteclay stores closed, though many local residents defended the businesses as legal and legitimate.
In a 28-page legal brief filed on Monday, lawyers with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office outlined three arguments for upholding the beer store closings:
» The district judge lacked jurisdiction because not all of the parties involved in the case were formally notified of the appeal of the liquor commission’s order. This is an issue raised previously by Dave Domina, a prominent private attorney representing five citizens who sought the closings of the stores but were not notified of the appeal.
» The district judge failed to review the liquor commission’s official hearing record before voiding the decision to deny a renewal of the Whiteclay liquor licenses.
» The district judge erred in ruling that the commission had exceeded its legal authority. The liquor board, according to the attorney general’s brief, has the power to protect the “health, safety and welfare” of citizens by denying the sale of alcohol in areas that lack adequate law enforcement.
The liquor commission, in its April order, cited testimony by a Sheridan County commissioner that the rural county “absolutely” lacked adequate patrols in Whiteclay, and testimony from residents who complained about drunken people in the village who had sexually assaulted women and urinated and defecated on the streets.
An attorney who represents the Whiteclay stores, Andrew Snyder of Scottsbluff, was not available for comment on Monday afternoon.
He has argued that the issue of adequate law enforcement can be raised only when a liquor license is first issued, and, absent a major change, cannot be used to deny the renewal of the licenses.
Legal briefs on behalf of the beer stores are due July 31. The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in the appeal for Aug. 29.