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Cowboy Bar loses in TKO

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

“We were just hanging out, having a drink, and all of a sudden a SWAT team burst into the bar with assault rifles and handguns drawn. We didn’t know the hell what was going on,” said a witness to the dramatic entry of a heavily armed contingent of United States Marshals into the 11th Street Cowboy Bar.
The startling raid took place at approximately 8:50 pm, Saturday, June 4. According to Bandera County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Matt King, the US Marshals out of San Antonio possessed a federal order enabling them seize funds onsite at Bandera’s popular watering hole. A judgment against owner James McGroarty, signed by US District Judge David Alan Ezra, had been handed down on May 2 in US District County-Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division.
To fulfill a portion of the judgment, marshals seized funds from cash registers. “I don’t know how much money was seized, but it was apparently enough to satisfy them. The marshals left and the bar reopened later,” King said.
McGroarty was not on the premises at the time of the raid. However, he purportedly brought $18,300 in cash to the marshals to settle the amount he indicated was owed in the summary judgment. “They took the money I offered, but didn’t return overcharges to me from the money already seized,” McGroarty said in an interview on Tuesday, June 7. Now I’m owed $4,400.”
McGroarty said that his attorney Matthew Parea, of San Diego, California, had petitioned the San Antonio federal court in San Antonio to have the overcharges returned.
According to McGroarty, during the raid, marshals had instructed the band and patrons to vacate the bar. Although the entertainers packed up and beat feet, a contingent of habitués declined to do so. “The bar reopened at 10 pm,” McGroarty said.
In addition, he said marshals checked every television in the bar to make sure the Ultimate Fighting Championship event scheduled for that night wasn’t being broadcast illegally.
An incident that culminated in “scared-the-bejesus-out-of” bar patrons began on May 5, 2012, when the bar offered a television broadcast of a World Boxing Association Light Middleweight Championship Fight Program, featuring Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Miguel Cotto.
Apparently, McGroarty failed to pay licensure fees assessed by J&J Sports Productions, Inc. Commercial establishments in Texas were required to obtain a sub-license from J&J to broadcast the event.
Court documents noted the sublicense fee for the Cowboy Bar would have been $2,200, due to its limited occupancy. However, at the time he applied for the license, McGroarty said J&J would charge him $6,700.
An investigator for McMahan Security was present – along with 31 to 34 other patrons – and watched the fight. “He took pictures and interviewed customers,” McGroarty said. Although not present at that time, McGroarty noted in a court document: “A patron brought his own equipment into the bar and caused the event to be broadcast.” This defense failed to sway the court in his favor, however.
“I believe we were set up,” McGroarty said. “A guy named Gary said he had already paid for the fight and asked if he could bring his cable box to the bar. Now, nobody knows Gary or where to find him,” McGroarty said. Gary was, according to McGroarty, not a regular customer.
“I was being stupid and nice at the same time to have let that happen,” McGroarty said. “I learned a valuable $18,000 lesson.” He continued, “I’m sure the whole thing was a setup because 60 days later I was served for unauthorized showing of the fight.”
Officials with J&J Sports Productions, Inc. have aggressively pursued judgments against commercial establishments that have pirated their pay-per-view boxing events.
According to an article written by Ryan Davis for Law360, titled “Bars Illegally Showing Boxing Face Wicked Legal Knockout,” J&S has filed 2,877 such lawsuits since 2005. Typically, the company sells around 3,000 to 4,000 licenses for a touted boxing match.
The lawsuits are filed under the Federal Communications Act, which includes provisions for statutory damages and mandatory attorneys’ fees.
Because Judge Ezra granted summary judgment to J&J Sports Productions, Inc., the lawsuit will not go to trial.
In the summary judgment, J&J received $3,500 in statutory damages, $7,000 in damages related to the bar’s $5 cover charge and $3,465 in attorney’s fees. The monetary judgment is one-third of the total recovery.
“After the summary judgment was awarded to J&J, my attorney filed an appeal, but it hadn’t been heard in court before the raid occurred on Saturday,” McGroarty said.
In an interview, King noted that this was just one in a series of raids conducted by US Marshals in the Hill Country and San Antonio area. “Maybe they were scheduled to enter less than desirable neighborhoods and that’s why the ‘show of force’,” he opined.
King also noted that BSCO administrators were only informed about the federal raid and seizures on Friday, June 3.
Looking back at the raid and what precipitated it, McGroarty said philosophically, “I could have booked Jake Hooker, broadcast the WBA fight and given everyone free barbecue and beer for what I’ve had to pay out since.”