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“Madam’s Organ Sues DC ABC for Decades of Harassment and ABRA Investigators for Filing a False Police Report”

by Prince Of Petworth March 17, 2016 at 11:00 am 18 Comments

2461 18th Street, NW

From Madam’s Organ Owner Bill Duggin:


After many years of repeated harassment over capacity issues that were settled definitively in the DC COURT of APPEALS in 2008, DC ABRA investigators and their supervisor on Sept 5, 2015 finally, definitively violated the law and were caught on VIDEO doing so…..asking MPD to arrest a Madam’s Organ doorman for not allowing them access…..and would have had the individual jailed if MPD had not refused to do so……..but ABRA proceeded with the case before the ABC Board on March 9, 2016….when two investigators committed perjury and the Attorney General argued vigorously to keep the incriminating evidence caught on three cameras from being admitted as evidence…but the video evidence was admitted….and still the outcome is far from certain because the DC ABC Board for all intents and purposes acts as a rubber stamp for the AG’s office

Madam’s Organ has filed this action because we feel that there is no true justice for any business that comes before the EXTREMELY unprofessional, volunteer ABC Board, where the ONLY requirement to serve is, not knowledge of the law, not knowledge of the industry they regulate…but only “knowledge of the adverse effects of alcohol”

We feel that, as was proven by the 2006-08 appeal of the ABC ruling to the DC Court of Appeals; the only chance for justice is before a legitimate court with a true judge and jury….not before an ABC Board that acts as judge and jury….but without the legal training to do so.”

You can read the full complaint filed here: Madams-Complaint-file stamped (PDF)

  • D

    Daaaaang! Get em! Haha. ABRA are a bunch a self important bullies. This is awesome. So glad a small business is standing up for themselves in a town that is so unsupportive of small businesses. Most patrons have no clue the kind of BS these folks have to go through with ABRA, DCRA, OTR, DOH, etc. constant harassment by unqualified bullies. I’ve only managed some of these places and couldn’t believe the daily barrage. Couldn’t imagine actually owning a small business in this town. That’s why I never talk trash about a small business like a lot of folks on here tend to do. Until you really know what’s goin on its not really cool to pass judgement. Keep it up and the district won’t be nothing but chipotles and 7-11s. Props to madams organ.

  • petworther

    First, ABRA are a bunch of douchebags and are destroying our city. Please god fix the ABRA board.
    Second, the 2008 decision is interesting. Does anyone know more backstory? The jist of the disagreement is that MA’s cert of occupancy states they have a limit 99 seats. They understand this to mean they can have 99 people seated, and up to the fire marshall’s limit of 393 total patrons (the remaining 294 would have to be standing). ABC fined them for being over 99 in 2005, but the DC court overturned the fine and said the voluntary agreements and the C of O only restrict the number of seats, not the number of patrons. Despite the ruling, ABC has tried to enforce the 99 patrons limit.
    So does this seats vs. patrons apply to all DC establishments (I’m thinking, for example, of Dacha)?

    • anon

      My understanding in regards to Dacha is that they were violating total occupancy, not seated occupancy.

      That said, in my own 5+ years of dealing with ABRA inspections, individual inspectors rarely know the difference. The fact that they can cite, fine, or close an establishment when they don’t always know the difference between total, seated, patio occupancy, etc. is just one example of how incompetent ABRA is as an organization.

      • Q-Street

        That is correct. Dacha’s overall capacity was ~126, and they were letting crowds of 350 regularly. There wasn’t any confusion there, they were just raking in cash for a few years until ABRA finally responded… by doubling Dacha’s capacity.
        No doubt ABRA is incompetent, but sometimes the bars win too.

        • petworther

          Just to clarify, based on my understanding of the lawsuit, ABRA has no authority to determine standing capacity. Overall capacity is set by the fire marshall. ABRA maintains separate capacity numbers, which in the case of MA referred only to a restriction on seated patrons, although ABRA may have stopped that oversight in the future.
          So I’m wondering if the restriction on Dacha is from the fire marshal or from ABRA, and if it is an ABRA restriction is it being properly applied?
          What the legal restrictions imply seems to have no bearing on how ABRA enforces them.

          • Q-Street

            ABRA issued a license for MO with a seated capacity limit of 99, but no overall capacity limit. The court determined that the seated capacity was not a limit for overall capacity. For Dacha’s liquor license there was a seated capacity limit of 100, and an overall capacity limit of 126.

        • Dweller

          Dacha overall capacity has been 461 as far as the City is concerned. It is on their CofO. 126 was a number that ABRA put on their liquor license following their initial, temporary CofO. ABRA did not amend Dacha’s license after that CofO was changed back in 2013. The settlement with ABC Board was inevitable because the case against Dacha was flawed and if brought to DC Court of Appeals the City would have most likely lost after spending lots of resources. But, the case would not have gone to DCCA because a) not everybody in the ABC/ABRA world are incompetent and b) Dacha was seconds away from selling their leasehold to a large operator who would have applied for a substantial change without going to ANC all things considered. And it was ANC, in the end, who agreed to Dacha’s 250 capacity, which is still 100 below what they wanted and 211 below what the City allows.

          Madam’s Organ case is hopefully the begging of a much needed change of antiquated, prohibition era statutes that regulate alcohol in DC and throw businesses and residents into bloody battles. Current laws have big gaps in how peace and quiet provisions are regulated and enforced. For example, at the core of the battle between ABC and MO is exactly what anon mentioned above – ABRA’s desire (and they do have jurisdiction) to regulate capacity despite the fact that they are not Fire Marshals. Believe me when I tell you this, if ABRA were to prevail a lot of bars and clubs (including lots of famous names on U Str/Shaw corridor) would have to close or move their operations elsewhere. Do you really think that you can’t get to the bar in most places on U Str its because of slow service? Think again. ABC Board jurisdiction over capacity number relates to how many people are allowed to consume on premises. This is what is hopelessly antiquated. If the City allows 300 patrons then the liquor license should be for 300 and resulting potential disturbances should be resolved via laws, not heated and messy ANC hearings. Sloppiness of DC statutes lead to the following fundamental flaw: Neighbors believe they can dictate how businesses should be operated irrespective of zoning and business license regulations. Businesses believe they can get away or lapse when it comes to noise abatement and safety. The City will most likely have to settle MO’s case. The majority of taxpayers will end up paying for the errant will of the minority of discontent Kalorama residents who hate MO’s mural and were empowered by the sloppy laws written when streetcars were still running on many DC streets and marginally amended when Barry was sniffing powder on his way to the City Hall.

  • annonny

    I love this: “the ONLY requirement to serve [on the ABC board]…is knowledge of the adverse effects of alcohol.” What is this, some kind of leftover of the temperance movement?

    • Dan

      Some might say it’s not left over, but rather a feature of the CURRENT temperance movement.

      I’d never open a business that sells alcohol in this city. Read too many ABRA meeting hearing transcripts (don’t laugh). Very “bow before us, you sleaze merchant.”

  • Shaw

    The entire ABRA system is broken. The all-volunteer board can’t keep up with the caseload, so it takes over a year most of the time to actually see something all the way through adjudication. There are two solutions to this – first, abolish the volunteer board, and make the board a full-time, paid position. Require legal knowledge, like a law degree, to sit on it. Second, allow ABRA investigators to issue fines and citations on the spot. Right now, even the smallest infraction automatically goes before the board for an initial hearing to decide if they should have a real hearing (I’m not kidding), and then through the actual hearing. Most of it is not necessary, and it’s what clogs up the system. Issue fines the same way police or parking enforcement people do when you see a smaller violation. If the business pays it, it’s done, like a parking ticket. If the business wants to contest it, *then* you have a hearing.

    • Say What

      “Right now, even the smallest infraction automatically goes before the board for an initial hearing to decide if they should have a real hearing (I’m not kidding), and then through the actual hearing. ”

      Untrue. ABRA investigators can issue citations. Unsure why you think that.

  • Is Bill writing all these comments?

  • Huh

    Interesting. Wasn’t a 19-year-old found dead in the back stairwell at Madam’s Organ recently? I can imagine something like that might get the regulators riled up… too bad they’re incompetent.

    • Born&Raised

      They were found at Bossa- after climbing through the construction site across the alley and walking across the back wall. Police have put no fault on MO from what ive heard.

    • bill duggan

      From Bill Duggan

      A young man was found dead,,,,but not behind Madam’s Organ, as was erroneously reported by many media outlets… but behind the adjoining building I know I was helping the family search for the young man and was on the phone with them when we went over our back fence to positively identify the body…a horrible, heartbreaking scene that I will never forget

      • dcrose

        Thanks for the info. Sorry to hear, what a terrible situation.

  • Huh


    • Huh

      Thanks for the update, hadn’t heard that. Sad


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