Judge to decide if Ohio firm will retain NH state liquor contract
NASHUA - A superior court judge will decide if the contract awarded by the New Hampshire Liquor Commission to Ohio-based Excel Inc. will stand.
Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Diane Nicolosi is considering arguments for a preliminary injunction requested by Law Warehouses to prevent the Liquor Commission from transferring the contract to Excel until a civil suit seeking to overturn the contract is resolved.
Law Warehouses has been doing business with the Liquor Commission for more than 40 years, but lost the most recent bid for the 20-year contract, which is worth about $200 million.
Attorney Christopher Carter said the state violated competitive bidding standards and failed to treat all bidders fairly and put them on "terms of perfect equality".
Carter presented depositions from former Liquor Commissioner Chairman Mark Bodi, chief of the state Liquor Commission Enforcement and Licensing Bureau, Eddie Edwards, and Craig Bulkley, chief of administration for the Liquor Commission as evidence that two commissioners were biased against Brian Law and tainted other members of the evaluation committee with their comments.
In his deposition, Bodi states Liquor Commission Chairman Joseph Mollica and Commissioner Michael Milligan "did not believe Brian Law was worthy of having the contract and that the Liquor Commission should not award it to him."
Edwards was not on the evaluation committee, but attended the meetings. His deposition referenced the chairman's tone when discussing Law, stating, "It was clear to me in those meetings that Brian Law was not high on the commissioner's appreciation scale, if you will. He was not someone they enjoyed doing business with, I guess."
The remarks created a "continuing poisoning of the well" against Law Warehouses, Carter said.
"There was no chance (Law Warehouses) was going to be placed in a position of perfect equality with the other bidders," Carter said.
The proposal submitted by Excel did not meet the mandatory requirements of the request for proposal, including requirements that bidders secure a warehouse site by a specific deadline and that proposals generate maximum revenues for the state, Carter said.
Instead of rejecting the bid, the state issued a series of amendments that benefited Excel and extended deadlines seven times, he said.
State Attorney Mary Ann Dempsey said extensions and date changes occurred because of the length of time required to go through all the proposals received. The allegations of hard feelings against Law in the depositions are disputed by other members of the committee, Dempsey said, and Mollica and Mulligan deny making the remarks attributed to them.
Dempsey also questioned Bodi and Edwards' motives. Bodi was removed as chairman of the commission in 2010 and resigned months later. Edwards brought his concerns about the fairness of the bidding process to the attorney general. He announced plans to retire from the commission last week.
"These two individuals are perhaps the two most disgruntled employees working for the commission," Dempsey said.
Regarding fairness, Dempsey said Mollica spoke with someone on Law's behalf so he would not lose secured warehouse space during the RFP process.
"Law was not the second-place bidder," Dempsey said. "They came in at third place, and there's good reason for that."
The state wanted a vendor with a state-of-the-art system, and Law had no experience with as complex a system as was needed, Dempsey said.
Law did not "sharpen his pencil" and adjust his rates when bidders were given the ability to revise their proposals in July.
The committee was also concerned with how business would run while Law relocated from Nashua to Seabrook, Dempsey said.
Law made the mistake of assuming he would win the bid and underestimated the competition, Dempsey said.
Nicolosi said she would take the arguments under advisement and render a decision later.