Confusion over judge’s ruling on state guidance for live music


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Bars and restaurants across New York State are trying to figure out whether a recent court ruling on coronavirus-related guidance will apply to them.

On Wednesday, Erie County Supreme Court Judge Frank Sedita ruled the state’s guidance unconstitutional, according to the plaintiff’s attorney and court staff. That guidance stated any music performed at establishments had to be “incidental to the dining experience” and could not be advertised or ticketed.

Sportsmen’s Tavern, a Black Rock bar and restaurant which offers live music, brought the lawsuit against the State Liquor Authority.

“It’s been a little overwhelming, the last 12 hours connecting with performers,” said Sportsmen’s co-owner Jason Hall.

After that guidance was posted in August, Hall took down his website so he wouldn’t be in violation of the state’s rule banning advertising. As of Thursday afternoon, within 24 hours of Sedita’s decision, the website was back.

“I’ve got a couple long nights putting all the shows on there,” Hall said.

A spokesperson for the State Liquor Authority said the agency was considering what to do next. They didn’t rule out a request for a stay or appeal of Sedita’s decision.

“(W)e are still in the midst of a global pandemic, and with the threat of clusters around the state and cases surging across the country, preventing mass gatherings remains one of the best public health tools in our toolbox,” SLA officials said in a statement.

The SLA also claims the decision only applies to Sportsmen’s Tavern, and not statewide. A spokesperson pointed at a recent ruling from a federal judge in New York City in a similar case. That judge denied a motion for an injunction against the guidance, saying the prohibition on live music advertising did not violate the First Amendment, and the ban on ticketed shows was constitutional.

Paul Cambria, an attorney for Sportsmen’s Tavern, sees things differently. He said he would challenge the SLA’s assessment that Sedita’s ruling applies only to Sportsmen’s.

In an email to News 4 after Sedita issued his ruling, Cambria said, “He declared it unconstitutional.

“That means it’s dead.”

“I know there’s a lot of confusion now about, does this just affect us? Does this affect other venues?” said Hall. “I would like to think that if it’s unconstitutional for Sportsmen’s, it’s unconstitutional for everybody.”

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.

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