State, federal lawsuits filed over mask mandates

  • lawsuits filed over mask mandates

OKLAHOMA CITY – Seven months after the coronavirus stifled the economy and social activity throughout Oklahoma – and after Governor Stitt and President Trump were infected with COVID-19 – mask mandates are still generating controversy.

Lawton’s mayor and a city councilman have been targeted for recall, in part because of a mask ordinance; lawsuits were filed recently in Norman and Tulsa; lawsuits over masks were previously filed in Guthrie and Tulsa; and a proposed mask mandate in Chickasha was spurned 8-1 by the city council on October 5.

Nineteen Oklahoma cities and a military instillation have adopted mask ordinances, records indicate.

Oklahoma City extended to October 20 its mask requirement which mandates that an individual must wear a face covering while in any indoor public place. Other metro-area communities, such as The Village, Warr Acres, Nichols Hills, Midwest City, Choctaw, Spencer, Yukon, Edmond and Norman, require masks, too. Masks also are mandated in Altus, Ada, Anadarko, Shawnee, McAlester, Stillwater, Tulsa and on the Fort Sill Army post. And the Grove City Council mandated masks on city property, starting October 12.

Recall Effort In Lawton Meets Deadline

The Freedom Defense Alliance (a/k/a SW Oklahoma Freedom Fighters) targeted Lawton Mayor Stan Booker and Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk, who is the mayor pro tempore, because of a mask mandate, at least in part.

The FDA had 30 days from September 14, the day the recall campaign started, to secure 100 signatures from citywide on the mayor’s petition, and 100 signatures from residents of Ward 4 on the Burk petition.

The petitioners submitted their statements and signatures to City Clerk Traci Hushbeck. Now she must send a copy of the petitioners’ ‘bill of particulars’ to Booker and Burk. In turn, each of those officials has 10 days to provide a rebuttal of no more than 200 words justifying his conduct in office.

A mask mandate that went into effect July 17 was the catalyst that triggered the recall effort but was not the sole cause, petition organizers told the Ledger.

“It started over the mask mandate, but it’s not just that,” said Chad Hernandez, public relations coordinator for the FDA.

He mentioned “a lot of things that have gone on here in Lawton” since mid-March, when President Trump declared a national emergency and Governor Stitt announced a state of emergency blamed on the coronavirus pandemic. Similarly, Booker declared a temporary “State of Civil Emergency” effective March 17, initially effective for 30 days, an action that was approved 6-0 by the City Council.

That was followed by a mask mandate requiring facial covering for anyone while inside a commercial establishment or other public building, structure or space open to the public, and on mass transit such as buses and vans. The City Council endorsed that measure by a vote of 7-1.

Ironically, Booker voted on neither proposal. The mayor votes only to cast a tie when the eight-member council locks up.

Hernandez mentioned “conduct unbecoming of elected officials,” “illegal activity due to negligence,” and public officials who “look out for their own interests as opposed to the interests of the citizens of Lawton.” He also said, “There are possible violations of city ordinances that we’re investigating.” However, he declined to elaborate when pressed by the Ledger for specifics.

Hernandez said the FDA targeted Burk because as the mayor pro tem, he and Booker have been “working together” and there have been “other issues,” too.

“We’re not anti-mask, we’re anti-mandate,” Hernandez said. “We don’t like to be told that we have to wear a mask.” The issue has “never been about a piece of fabric that you wear on your face,” he said. “It’s about government overreach.”

Scientific Poll Finds Majority Support Masks

A SoonerPoll scientific survey of 564 Comanche County voters last month showed that 71.4% of them approved of “mandating the wearing of masks while in public places,” 23.6% disapproved, and 5% were undecided. The poll had a margin of error of ±4.12%.

The ages of the respondents were:

18-34:  4.8%

35-49:  19.1%

50-64:  35.3%

65 and older: 40.7%

Pollsters tabulated responses from 238 Democrats, 262 Republicans, 55 registered Independents and 9 Libertarians. Of the respondents, 314 were women and 250 were men.

Norman Man Files Lawsuit Over Mandate

A Norman resident has filed the latest lawsuit over a mask mandate.

Contractor, landlord and real estate developer Sassan Moghadam sued The City of Norman in Cleveland County District Court over an amended ordinance that requires face masks and social distancing at public and private gatherings of more than 25 people if proper separation cannot be maintained.

Moghadam seeks to prevent the city from enforcing the revised ordinance, which the City Council adopted on September 22, and wants the court to declare it unconstitutional.

The amendment created criminal penalties for anyone who is in possession, control, or is responsible for any premises in Norman and “has a gathering, whether it be a Bible study, book club, a family reunion or a football watch party, that exceeds 25 people if three people in attendance do not wear face coverings,” Moghadam complained in his legal filing.

A violator can be fined from $50 to $750 and jailed for up to 60 days.

Moghadam, co-founder of Unite Norman, said he “intends to hold a social gathering at his residence that will exceed 25 individuals, and it is “highly anticipated” that “at least three individuals” outside his control will attend the party but not wear masks. Therefore, Moghadam writes, he will be subject to the criminal provisions of Ordinance 2021-17.

Moghadam cites the section of the state Constitution which declares, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” This provision “safeguards a right to privacy of an individual to his home and private property,” Moghadam wrote in his petition.

District Judge Lori Walkley on October 6 rejected Moghadam’s request for a temporary restraining order, until or unless “there is a threat of prosecution…”

Federal Lawsuit Filed in Tulsa

Tulsa optometrist Robert Zoellner, radio show host Clay Clark, and five other individuals filed suit August 17 in Tulsa’s Northern District federal court against Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, the Tulsa City Council and the Tulsa Department of Health over a mask mandate.

The plaintiffs contend the mandate violates the “equal protection clause” of the U.S. Constitution, violates “due process,” amount to “unreasonable seizure,” is void because of its “vagueness,” violates the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, and is “beyond all question, a plain, palpable invasion of rights secured by the fundamental law – the Constitution.”

Guthrie Lawsuit Lasted 8 Days

A federal lawsuit filed April 22 against the City of Guthrie, its mayor, city council and police chief, alleging that municipal measures enacted in response to the global spread of the coronavirus violated the constitutional rights of 10 individuals, lasted just eight days.

The plaintiffs included seven Guthrie residents and three individuals who told the court they “visit and/or conduct business in” Guthrie.

The lawsuit arose from a “State of Emergency Declaration” that the Guthrie mayor issued March 16, effective through May 11 “unless terminated or renewed”, and from Ordinance #3330 adopted by the City Council on April 6.

The ordinance directed Guthrie citizens to “shelter in place” and to wear “cloth face coverings”; closed city properties and facilities; suspended organized gatherings of 10 or more people on public or private property, including churches; closed hair and nail salons, barber shops, spas, tattoo parlors, fitness and entertainment venues, and other businesses except those deemed to be “essential”; stressed ‘social distancing’ of at least 6 feet between individuals; etc.

The plaintiffs asserted that the ordinance impeded their free exercise of religion, violated the “commerce clause” of the U.S. Constitution, and was “vague,” “imprecise” and “ambiguous”.

On the morning of April 27, hours before the initial court hearing on the lawsuit was scheduled, the Guthrie City Council held a special meeting and approved Ordinance #3331, which rescinded the mandatory measures imposed in Ordinance #3330.

Municipal officials instead “strongly recommend” that Guthrie citizens and businesses “continue to follow CDC recommendations” on social distancing, wash hands with soap and water, avoid touching one’s face, disinfect frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible, “consider” using face coverings while in public and when using mass transit, stay at home as much as possible, and contact a doctor if you feel sick.

Federal Judge Scott Palk in Oklahoma’s U.S. Western District Court dismissed the case April 30. No harm to the plaintiffs was ever demonstrated, the judge ruled.

Tulsan Struck Out In His Lawsuit Against City Hall

Jeffrey A. Dickstein, a 73-year-old Vietnam veteran, sued the City of Tulsa in state district court there July 17 over an ordinance adopted two days earlier that added a new section entitled “Face Covering and Social Distancing during COVID-19 Pandemic Civil Emergency”.

Dickstein asserted that the city’s emergency declaration was unlawful and violated the state Constitution’s Article I and Article II, Sections 2, 3 and 37. Before the day was over District Judge William Musseman denied Dickstein’s emergency motion for a temporary restraining order because he failed to provide notice to City Hall.

Dickstein quickly filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against the City of Tulsa, and a hearing was held on July 23. Musseman dismissed that motion on July 31 because Dickstein “failed to demonstrate irreparable injury by clear and convincing evidence.”

A week later Dickstein dismissed his case, claiming it was “perfectly clear neither the City of Tulsa nor the District Court believe there is any reason to 1) obey their oaths to obey the Constitutions of the United States, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma law; 2) protect the people from the fear-mongering being perpetrated by enemies of our American Way of Life…; and 3) protect the people from the false propaganda that wearing a mask will protect them from a non-existent ‘pandemic’…”