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Pennsylvania restaurant owners who were fined more than $10,000 for reopening against Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 lockdown order have been found not guilty in court and therefore not liable to pay the money.
The owners of Taste of Sicily in Palmyra, who had been fighting with the state for months, garnered the support of local officials after they decided to reopen their restaurant in May, having shut down initially for two months in compliance with Wolf’s order.
The owners, who allowed customers to decide whether they wanted to wear masks and socially distance, per repeatedly cited by state officials for violating Wolf’s restrictions.
“Some rob you with a gun, while others rob you with a pen,” Michael Mangano, one of the restaurant’s co-owners, told PennLive in July. “We ain’t paying crap.”
He owns the restaurant with sibling Christine Wartluft.
At the time, PennLive reported:
The restaurant’s owners showed themselves getting served the latest citation in a video posted to their Facebook page. Two inspectors from the Department of Agriculture enter the Main Street establishment and leave the $4,000 citation behind, without saying a word.
The owners’ attorney, Eric Winter, told The Daily Caller that under Pennsylvania criminal statutes, they could not be fined or punished under the orders issued by Wolf and the state health department.
“It is very questionable as to whether the law allows the Department of Health to issue orders as it did. It is not possible for a criminal penalty to be imposed for violating the orders,” he said.
To many, Wolf’s focus on Lebanon County seemed political, as he appeared to be fixated on the Republican leadership there and their support for small businesses like Taste of Sicily, The DC reported.
On July 17, Wolf made the decision to withhold $13 million in funding from the county, making it the only one cut off from a $625 million coronavirus relief fund package. In making his decision, Wolf blamed the GOP-controlled Board of Commissioners, WPXI reported.
“The mask mandate, the plexiglass, the social distancing, all of those things that the governor and [Secretary of Health Rachel] Levine were implementing are not an enforceable citation,” Mangano told The DC. “In other words, they can’t legally enforce that. This says that any fine that you get from the state is legally non-enforceable.”
Mangano advised other business owners in the state considering reopening to do so and to not be deterred by fines of the threat of fines. He said businesses should simply “stand up and plead not guilty.”
“When you get these fines from these agents do not pay them. Plead not guilty, and take them to court. As you can see we won because they had no legal right to fine us for those mandates and guidelines the governor and Levine implemented,” he said, according to the Daily Caller.
“You have to stick together and go to court.”
A federal judge ruled in September that Wolf’s restrictions on social gatherings and the shuttering of so-called ‘non-essential’ businesses during the pandemic unconstitutional.
In particular, the business closure mandate violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which requires impartial treatment and equal enforcement of laws and regulations.
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