OLYMPIA - Sports bar owner Frankie Schnarrs was cleared Friday of complaints by Thurston County that he violated an injunction enforcing the state's anti-smoking law by allowing customers to light up inside his tavern.
"It's just sad that I have to be here," Schnarrs said after Superior Court Judge Anne Hirsch denied the county's motion to order Schnarrs in contempt of court. "I'm being challenged every day by fire officials, police officials and the court. All I'm trying to do is run a business."
Hirsch said that although "clearly, Schnarrs needs to comply with the state law," the county had not produced sufficient evidence to prove that he had deliberate intent to violate the Dec. 29, 2006, permanent injunction. The injunction, filed April 7, 2006, on a temporary basis, ordered Schnarrs to comply with the state's ban against cigarette smoking inside public places, approved by voters in December 2005.
"The county tried to prosecute my client for criminal contempt through a civil process," said Schnarrs' attorney, Shawn Newman. "They tried to make an example of my client because he's been outspoken on this issue."
County environmental health specialist Dale Tahja, who investigated the case, said Schnarrs was the only proprietor in the county who still was not compliant with the state anti-smoking law.
Tahja said he received a citizens complaint Jan. 10 about customers smoking inside the bar, as well as two similar reports by an off-duty county building inspector and code-compliance officer Jan. 19 and Jan. 26. In addition, Tahja said he did not see the required "no smoking" sign when he visited Schnarrs' tavern Jan. 11.
"Clearly, he didn't get the message," Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jane Futterman told Hirsch on Friday. Futterman had asked the judge to impose fines against Schnarrs of $100 per day dating to the Dec. 29 injunction, or $7,500.
Newman argued that Schnarrs fired one of his bartenders for smoking and for not enforcing the smoking ban on customers.
He added it was impossible for Schnarrs to be at the bar every minute.
"Just because someone was seen smoking inside the bar, doesn't mean my client violated the law," Newman said.
In February 2006, Schnarrs was quoted in The Olympian as saying he would openly defy the state law by placing ashtrays at his bar. He complained then that the law had caused a 50 percent drop in business.
On Friday, he said he is complying with the law and has applied to the county for permission to install special smoking rooms inside the tavern.
Schnarrs also said he is acting as a consultant for a new restaurant and bar on Squaxin tribal trust land along Steamboat Island Road.
The establishment would share a 3,500-square-foot building with the new home of Skookum Creek Tobacco Outlet Store, scheduled to open soon.
Keri Brenner covers Thurston County and Tumwater for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-5435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.