St. Petersburg bars which have violated the masks order say that they can’t be enforced

ST. PETERSBURG – The company behind several popular downtown bars and venues argues in a lawsuit that Mayor Rick Kriseman’s order to require the wearing of masks cannot be enforced by the district courts.

The lawsuit states that the mayor’s executive order is not a city ordinance and cannot be enforced as such. That arrangement is the basis for more than a dozen quotes the companies received after the city claimed employees didn’t wear masks and didn’t enforce social distancing.

Knight Global Entertainment, which owns establishments such as Jannus Live, MacDinton’s Irish Pub, Pelican Pub and Ringside Cafe, raised this point in a January 21 petition. It is asking a judge to dismiss a district court case on one of the 13 quotes Knight Global Entertainment’s subsidiaries have received since October.

The suit also characterized the city’s mask ordinance, which mirrors an ordinance of the Pinellas County and requires restaurant and bar workers to wear face coverings at all times, as “unreasonable” – although this legal argument is not elaborated on. And it said the city threatened to revoke the permits that allow these facilities to operate after midnight. A move that the petition calls a “proverbial death penalty” for the company.

The petition contains no evidence that St. Petersburg has threatened to remove the company’s extended working hours. The attorneys for Weber, Crabb & Wein, the St. Petersburg law firm that represents Knight Global, were unavailable for comment Thursday or Friday. A city spokesman declined to comment.

At the center of the dispute is an order Kriseman issued in June 2020 when coronavirus cases surfaced while Governor Ron DeSantis pushed ahead with a plan to reopen the economy. Two days before Kriseman’s order, the Pinellas County Commission approved a county ordinance that established masking and social distancing rules and penalties for businesses: $ 100 quotes for a first violation, $ 250 for a second, and $ 500 for subsequent violations.

Kriseman’s executive order stated that the city would adopt the same rules and that violating those rules would result in quotations.

The Knight Global petition argues that Kriseman cannot make an ordinance of his own – only St. Petersburg City Council can – and that district courts that rule city citations do not have executive ordinances.

Copies of citations in court records show the Ringside Cafe was cited five times from October through December; the Pelican Pub twice; and Jannus Live and MacDinton three times each. All stores are on the same block on First Avenue N.

The quotes say employees did not wear masks properly, customers stood at a bar without maintaining social distance, or in some cases both. Kriseman’s Executive Order is known as a Violated Order.

Jay Wolfson, an attorney and public health expert at the University of South Florida, said the case was “difficult”. The approach taken by Knight Global attorneys seems solid, he said, but it cannot predict how a judge will approach the issue of executive versus regulation.

The water could be further tarnished by a governor order suspending coronavirus-related fines against individuals. He wondered, could a court find that the order also applies to businesses?

“I don’t have a simple answer,” said Wolfson. “It comes to the fact that we have not organized, coordinated, or strategically planned the resources needed to fight this disease.”

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