Have a drink, Randy: promoter beats charges
A jury acquitted concert promoter Randy Barton on Thursday of charges he violated state and Summit County alcohol laws, a win for a prominent critic of Utah’s unique liquor restrictions.
The jurors agreed with the local entertainment maven’s contention that he was giving away drinks at the Peoa Fairgrounds in 2005, not charging for them, while also collecting donations for his non-profit live-music organization.
The four-woman panel deliberated for one hour at the Summit County Justice Center before returning not-guilty verdicts on four misdemeanor counts brought by prosecutors in September.
Barton had faced two charges of violating laws regulating one-time events, stemming from incidents on July 8, 2005 and July 22, 2005, a count of unlawfully selling an alcoholic beverage and a count of violating the limitations of his alcohol permit.
Barton, 53 years old and an Old Town resident, said after the verdict that Utah’s liquor laws, long criticized by people in the entertainment and nightclub industries, are difficult to understand, complicating the case for the jury.
"I’m very happy. I didn’t like the idea of ‘Randy Barton, criminal,’" Barton, the executive director of Mountain Town Stages, said.
Each of the charges carried a possible sentence of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The nine-hour, 20-minute trial favored Barton’s side through much of the key testimony from the nine witnesses, particularly from people at the events who recalled the manner in which Barton was collecting money.
If prosecution witnesses convinced the jury Barton was effectively selling the drinks through what he instead saw as donations to Mountain Town Stages, the defense would likely have been endangered.
The prosecution tried that tact, arguing that the drinks were for sale through the donations, but witnesses contested the assertions made by Anne Cameron, the Summit County attorney who presented the state’s case on Thursday.
Cameron said Barton, who wore black slacks, a black sport coat and blue shirt during the trial, sold beer with 3.2 percent alcohol by weight and wine without the permits or licenses he was required to hold. She maintained that people would not give money unless they were expecting the alcohol in return.
"You don’t get something for nothing," Cameron said as she finished her case.
Barton, though, disputed that theory, saying that he did not expect a donation in exchange for a drink. Barton said the free drinks were an effort to be hospitable.
"When we provide beverages complimentary, that’s what they are," Barton, who testified for 45 minutes, said.
In their testimony, other witnesses offered similar opinions that they did not consider their donations as payment for the drinks.
Brian Richards, a Parkite who owns Orion’s Music Shop and a board member of Mountain Town Stages, testified he sometimes would put $10 into the donation bucket at Barton’s shows because he had a good time, not because he had drinks. He said he was not at the two July 2005 concerts, though.
Pam Occhino, who was Barton’s assistant at Mountain Town Stages in 2005 and was at the Peoa event on July 8, testified that Barton "over and over" told her not to collect payment for the drinks, including two brands of beer and wine, that she served. Some people, though, would donate some money into two or three buckets that were at the event both before and after they got a drink, she said.
Sheriff Dave Edmunds, meanwhile, who appeared as a defense witness, testified that he had told Barton that he was unaware of laws prohibiting Barton from giving out free drinks. He did not recall talking to Barton about using donation buckets or what the prosecutors alleged was the donations-for-alcohol arrangement, though.
Sue Follett, the Summit County clerk and an important prosecution witness, said she had told Barton beforehand she believed, after talking to the Summit County Attorney’s Office, that giving alcohol away was prohibited.
Follett testified that she went to the July 8 and July 22 events, noticed a man get a beer at one of them and was told by someone giving out drinks that they were not requiring payment.
"She said we’re not charging for the refreshments but we’re accepting donations," Follett said about a conversation on July 8.
Under cross-examination by Barton’s attorney, James C. Lewis, Follett said she waited two weeks to file a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office to give herself time to research laws. Follett admitted that she did not hear someone say that a donation was required to get a drink but she was under the impression that was the case.
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