Judge allows restaurant that was shut down due to employees not wearing masks to temporarily open

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ASHLAND, Ohio (WJW) — An Ashland County judge has ruled a restaurant that was shut down by the health department after employees failed to wear face masks can reopen, at least temporarily.

Ashland County Common Pleas Judge Ronald Forsthoefel granted Cattlemans Restaurant’s request for a temporary restraining order.  

The ruling states the restaurant can reopen at 6 a.m. Saturday, July 25. 

The Ashland County Prosecutor’s Office typically represents the county health department; however,  Prosecutor Chris Tunnell filed a motion in court Thursday, asking for outside legal counsel to be obtained. He cited ethical reasons.

“The Prosecuting Attorney has thoroughly reviewed the matter and is of the opinion that the suspension was contrary to law and that there are no defenses which would not be frivolous,” Tunnell wrote in the motion. “ Therefore, the Prosecuting Attorney is unable, consistent with Rule 3.1 of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, to defend the Board in court.”

The judge granted the motion.

Health Department officials declined to comment.

A hearing on the matter will be held next week. 

“ I am so thankful,” said Mandy Close, owner of Cattlemans.  “I just want to be able to earn a living.” 

When asked if employees will wear masks when they reopen, Close said she is still looking into the matter.  She says the governor’s order does list exceptions on who needs to wear masks. 

The 1851 Center for Constitutional Law filed a motion in Ashland County Common Pleas Court Wednesday asking the judge to grant Cattlemans’ motion for the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

“This matter turns neither on whether any particular pandemic policy is wise, nor on the magnitude of the threat posed by any particular pandemic,” the motion states. “Rather, this matter concerns whether local health authorities may twist Ohio law to impose the proverbial death penalty on a local business in a never-before-attempted and flagrantly unlawful manner.”

Close told the FOX 8 I-Team that she was shut down last week and given a letter saying her food license was suspended.  The restaurant is located in Savannah in Ashland County.

The order  Close received from the health department states the action was taken for failing to comply with state rules.

“Specifically, the Cattlemans Restaurant is not in compliance with the requirements of the Ohio Department of Health Director’s Dine Safe Ohio Order issued May 14, 2020. Section 10, number iii states that employees’ face coverings must be worn at all times unless exceptions apply.’”

 Ashland County health officials have said they believe their actions are justified. Health officials also say they have been threatened.

“In most situations, the Ashland County Health Department does not speak on open enforcement actions,” said Heather Reffett, Ashland County Health Commissioner. “However, with regards to Cattlemans Restaurant, the ACHD is confident that we will prove our case. Regardless of Ms. Close’s beliefs, actual facts do matter. I would add that ACHD responded to three citizen complaints regarding this restaurant and has been working with Ms. Close since June. I would be remiss to not point out that instead of complying with the law, Ms. Close has chosen to start a campaign of harassment and bullying of health department employees. By utilizing social media platforms, her restaurant provided a forum for comments about using guns and fertilizing plenty of fields (with our dead bodies).”

Close said she  never threatened anyone and has no knowledge of any threats made against anyone.  She said   she asked for an emergency hearing before the Ashland County Board of Health. She was first told her hearing would be held Monday July 20, but was notified a few hours prior to the meeting that it had been cancelled.  

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