Judge tosses contempt complaint over smoking ban

Judge tosses contempt complaint over smoking ban »Play Video
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A judge on Friday dismissed a contempt complaint against a bar owner who was accused of violating the state ban on smoking in public places.

Frank Schnarrs, owner of Frankie's Sports Bar & Grill, came to the attention of the prosecutor's office after allowing smoking on only the second floor of his tavern.

Schnarrs declared the second floor a private workspace with its own ventilation, separate from the public bar on the first floor. His lawyer said this type of space did not fall within the public smoking ban regulations because it was far enough away and separate from the public area.

Prosecutors disagreed and asked that Schnarrs be held in contempt for violating a 2006 court decision that ordered him to comply with the ban.

Schnarrs' attorney requested that a new judge hear the case and, on Friday, the judge dismissed the complaint and surprised both prosecutors and the defense attorney by offering advice to Schnarrs.

"Maybe if you had a membership, private club, and charged something more than the cost of food and drink to be a member, you could get around it that way," Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks said.

Schnarrs' lawyer, Shawn Newman, asked the judge if that would make smoking in the room okay, and the Hicks responded, "Yes, he could. He hasn't done that."

It's not clear if making the second floor a private club would be a long-term solution, as the state Supreme Court has yet to rule on a related case governing smoking in private clubs.

In a case argued before the state's high court last year, the Bremerton post of the American Legion argued that the state's public smoking ban should not apply to their private gathering place.

Thurston County prosecutors said they planned to appeal Friday's ruling.