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Smoldering onward


Bruce Hicks, taking a puff inside his bar, insists he wont - stop defying the ban. - L'AURA MONTGOMERY
  • L'Aura Montgomery
  • Bruce Hicks, taking a puff inside his bar, insists he wont stop defying the ban.

There are two ways of looking at a jury's verdict this week that Bruce Hicks is guilty of allowing smoking at his local bar in March 2007. One is that the legal system worked.

Hicks offers a different view, chuckling slightly as he reports having just paid a fine and court costs.

"I paid $221 for a year and a half of getting my customers back," he says.

Hicks, owner of Murray Street Darts at 609 N. Murray Blvd., made headlines in 2007 for organizing what he called a "civil disobedience" protest among bar owners opposed to the statewide smoking ban that went into effect July 1, 2006. Hicks said the ban cost him 25 percent of his business.

Despite large showings at protest meetings, the protest never truly ignited. Hicks and owners of three other bars received about 55 tickets between them following undercover investigations in March 2007, as most bar owners apparently decided to wait and see how the situation would play out.

That waiting will likely continue. Though Hicks received 23 tickets, a judge dismissed all but four of them after ruling that he could only be cited once per day. Tuesday's six-person jury trial in El Paso County Court only dealt with the first; a second is scheduled for next Tuesday, with two more in October.

D.J.'s Bar and Grill, at 1110 E. Fillmore St., and Hill Top Lounge, at 4829 Barnes Road, ticketed around the same time, also face upcoming trials.

The scene at Murray Street Darts appears to have changed little since the tickets were issued. On Monday afternoon, three or four regulars sat at the bar smoking and sipping coffee and beer. When two more patrons came in, Murray gave them an ashtray for a $1 contribution to his "get out of jail fund."

That fund, Hicks says, has paid about $8,500 to cover the costs of his attorney, James Dodd. As for other expenses: Smoking ban violations cost $200 for a first offense, $300 for a second and $500 for any others in a year. While those costs could add up, a bigger deterrent is the threat that violations could endanger a bar owner's liquor license.

Hicks dismisses that worry, saying he'll fight the liquor board if the subject of smoking arises.

Though Hicks' protest hasn't generated enough support to overwhelm the legal system, as he had hoped, he has gotten some late backing. A provision of the ban allowed smoking at casinos until the beginning of this year. In June, four Cripple Creek casinos bucked the ban.

They were eventually ticketed, and two quickly went smoke-free again. It's not clear what will happen at Bronco Billy's and the Midnight Rose; Cripple Creek Mayor Dan Baader says they seem intent on allowing smoking until their court cases are resolved.

Some bar owners who resisted the ban from the outset have adapted. Will Pelz, owner of Will's Sports Pub at 424 S. Nevada Ave., says the ban killed his happy hour but that he's able to operate more as a restaurant to get by.

That's not an option, Pelz says, for a lot of neighborhood bars. And Hicks has made it clear that he doesn't see it as an option, either.

"Whether I'm found guilty or not," he said the day before his trial, "you're still going to be able to smoke at Murray Street Darts. This is the beginning, not the end."

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