Judge issues continuance for Firehouse BBQ hearing, moved to Sept. 1
DENHAM SPRINGS - Visibly small but staunch in its resolve to continue serving mask-less customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, Firehouse BBQ in Denham Springs has been at odds with officials since its refusal to apply the governor's mask mandate went public.
According to Livingston Parish News, on Monday the judge set to preside over the case, Brian Abels, issued a continuance of the hearing until Sept. 1 at 9 a.m.
So, until Sept. 1 the restaurant can remain open and continue operations as both temporary restraining orders will remain in place until that time.
Last week, Judge Abels, of the 21st Disctrict Court, blocked Gov. John Bel Edwards from further action against Firehouse BBQ, which has stayed open despite being ordered to close for repeated violations of COVID-19 mitigation measures.
On July 31, the Louisiana Department of Health pulled Firehouse BBQ's food permit on July 31 for not having its tables spaced according to social distancing guidelines and for employees not wearing face masks.
Eunice Danielle Bunch, owner of the restaurant, has claimed that she informed the Health Department inspector her employees had various medical issues that prevented them from being able to use the mask while working, one of the exceptions in Edwards' mask mandate.
She has also claimed via social media that her tables are now spaced 10 feet apart, in accord with social distancing requirements.
Last week, a judge ordered the restaurant to shut down for continuing to defy mitigation measures even after its food permit was pulled.
The Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office delivered the temporary restraining order on Monday, but the restaurant pretty much ignored it and continued to operate.
This is why the Department of Health filed a contempt of court order Tuesday.
In response, Bunch’s lawyer, Jeff Wittenbrink, filed temporary restraining orders on Wednesday against Edwards, Dr. Jimmy Guidry, Dr. Courtney Phillips, and the Department of Health “from the further enforcement of the governor’s ‘mask order,’” which the filing claimed is “unconstitutional, illegal, vague, and unenforceable.”
Though the request for a permanent injunction was not granted, Abels said that the state cannot take further action before a hearing that is scheduled for Aug. 18.
Firehouse BBQ, refusing to back down, has remained in operation and said via social media that it will not comply with what it described as an “illegal mandate.” Bunch has recently started a page to raise money for legal fees.
The state, meanwhile, has argued that the restaurant is contributing to “irreparable harm to the public health, in the form of unnecessary risk of additional spread of COVID-19” by not adhering to rules that have been vetted by the White House Coronavirus Task Force and the Center for Disease Control.
The Department of Health’s actions against Firehouse BBQ marked the first time the state sought to close a restaurant for not following Edwards’ emergency order.
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