Judge defies Newsom, gives San Diego restaurants permission to dine indoors; state appeals ruling

A California judge doubled down on an earlier ruling that put Gov. Gavin Newsom in his place over restrictive coronavirus orders.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil spent less than 10 minutes in a hearing with county officials on Thursday, clarifying that his decision to allow area strip clubs to continue operating amid the pandemic was “straightforward” and extended to restaurants providing indoor dining as well, ABC News reported.

The order created a setback to the Democratic governor’s stay-at-home order, issued in response to a concern that hospital intensive care units will run out of beds. Two San Diego strip clubs were handed a huge victory Wednesday when the judge granted a preliminary injunction allowing the businesses to stay open and continue to offer live dancing.

Though Wohlfeil had noted that his ruling applied to “San Diego County businesses with restaurant services,” there was some confusion about the details. The county stopped enforcing the restrictions barring indoor and outdoor dining and live entertainment hours after the decision but more clarification about the scope of the order was sought by county officials.

(Image: NBC News screenshot)

“It is intended to encompass all restaurants within the county of San Diego,” Wohlfeil said Thursday in the hearing “that lasted all but eight minutes,” according to ABC News.

Although the county board of supervisors had already voted last week that, if needed, they would appeal  Wohlfeil’s ruling on the injunction for the strip clubs, but they had not factored in any impact on restaurants. They were scheduled to meet in a closed session on Friday to discuss what they would do next.

“The state of California is already appealing the decision, so whether the county joins it or not will have no impact on the outcome,” county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said.

“No one wants our small businesses to be closed, but the science and data are showing a dire trend in hospitalizations and deaths,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said.

Newsom appealed the judge’s ruling immediately, making it more difficult for restaurant owners to decide whether to close or to prepare their businesses and staff to serve customers as the Christmas holiday nears. A spokesman for county Supervisor Jim Desmond noted the apprehension of business owners who may make preparations and purchase supplies only to have an appeal force them to close.

ABC News noted that three restaurant owners, including one with multiple locations in San Diego, planned to reopen this weekend but did not want to be named, for “fear of being targeted by officials.”

One restaurant owner, who was part of a lawsuit charging that the state’s pandemic restrictions are illegal, is waiting it out to see if an appeal by officials moves forward.

“For now we are very hopeful that the ruling will be upheld and we’ll be able to reopen with all of the safety protocols that we had previously put in place,” Angie Weber, the owner of Cowboy Star and Butcher Shop, told ABC News.

Wohlfeil noted in his ruling Wednesday in favor of Pacers Showgirls International and Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club, that his decision applied to businesses “providing live adult entertainment” and was “subject to protocols that are no greater than what is essential to further Defendants’ response to control the spread of COVID.”

He made it clear that officials had not provided enough evidence to show that restaurants and some businesses being allowed to remain open actually adds to the risk of getting infected with COVID-19.

“Given every opportunity, the County has provided the Court with no evidence that San Diego County businesses with restaurant service, such as Plaintiffs’ establishments, who’ve implemented protocols as directed by the County, present any risk — much less a greater risk than before Governor Newsom issued his December 3, 2020, Regional Stay at Home Order — to the spread of COVID,” he wrote.

Wohlfeil noted how the two San Diego clubs had established and carried out their own safety measures for weeks before Newsom’s latest order went into effect on December 3.

“These business establishments provide sustenance to and enliven the spirits of the community,” he wrote, “while providing employers and employees with means to put food on the table and secure shelter, clothing, medical care, education and, of course, peace of mind for they and their families.”


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