Ramona Gym First Business Charged For Violating County Coronavirus Health Order
Speaker 1: 00:00 After weeks of encouraging voluntary compliance, San Diego County has issued its first formal charge against a business for allegedly violating COVID-19 public health orders. Peter San Nicholas owner of Ramona fitness center faces five misdemeanor charges for keeping his gym and operation. After a shutdown order, it may be the first of many legal actions against noncompliant businesses and individuals by the San Diego County district attorney. That office says it's currently reviewing other cases of repeated violations of public health orders. Joining me is Greg Moran with the San Diego union Tribune, which covered this story. And Greg, welcome to the program librarian. Thanks for having me. What is the gym owner accused of exactly? Speaker 2: 00:47 Well, these are five misdemeanor charges. The actual charge is violating the, uh, state emergency services act. So this is the law that, uh, we're living under essentially. Uh, as long as there is, is a state of emergency. Um, this is the one that gives, uh, the governor and executives and public health officials, all kinds of extraordinary power, uh, that we've seen in action of a past several months, uh, to manage, uh, an emergency a crisis, whether it, in this case, obviously the pandemic, the COVID-19 dynamic, uh, but it can also be used for earthquakes or floods or things like that. So he's, he's accused of breaking that law by not complying with the public health orders and shutting down his gyms. Speaker 1: 01:29 What kind of penalty is San Nicolas? Speaker 2: 01:32 So these are all misdemeanors. So there it's a maximum of six months in jail, which is, I think, highly unlikely and a thousand dollar fine. There are particularly onerous penalties. I think that the penalty is really, uh, you know, they sent a very strong signal to other businesses, to this particular businesses and others about complying with the public health. Speaker 1: 01:53 Now a UT reporter interviewed San Nicolas yesterday. How is he responding? Speaker 2: 01:59 It's very interesting. My colleague, Alex Brigance, who really reported this story out, talked to him at some length and he's saying, uh, I think what a lot of business owners are saying, which is like, look, uh, I shut down, uh, in March in the, in the first shutdown and I lost a lot of money. I think he said he lost up to a quarter of a million dollars. Um, and that, uh, he's had this business, this fitness center and Ramona for 20 years. And then when he reopened, he was closed for, I think about three months, 80, 85, 90 days, something like that. We were open in early June and then he was told to shut back down again. And he, he was saying, look, if I had a closed down, then I never would have reopened yet. His relatives who run businesses at daycare, I think, uh, which you know, is likely to shut down for good. So his response was East trying to run his business safely. He doesn't think he's endangering people. He certainly not says he's not doing it on purpose, but he is trying to his business. He's trying to make a living. And he can't do that. If he's close. Speaker 1: 03:03 Now, the County has allowed gyms to operate outdoors. Isn't that an option for him? Speaker 2: 03:08 It would be, um, I don't know exactly why he, he didn't, uh, you know, avail themselves of that, but some can do it. Some can't you could be, you know, restricted in your sort of physical space or where you're set up or stuff. I'm not quite sure why he didn't go outside other than, uh, you know, all of us in San Diego County know that Ramona in the summertime, although a lovely community can be a little warm. So maybe, maybe that wasn't a viable, Speaker 1: 03:35 The County says other referrals to the DA's office for criminal charges against business owners are pending. What sort of legal defense might businesses be able to use to fight back against these types of charges? Apparently in the article in the UT a defense attorney says that some of these laws are over-broad and could be challenged, Speaker 2: 03:56 Right? That's always a, an argument when the, when the government takes an action against somebody. This is a so, so that's clearly a defense you could say. Uh, I think also the, the attorney, Carrie Armstrong is a real experienced criminal defense attorney here in San Diego and a very good one. He, you know, kind of said, look, you have two things you could argue that it's overbroad. You can argue that it's inconsistent that there is this overlap and mismatch and mixed batch of, of, uh, local and state orders, County to County, city to city within counties that really make compliance confusing, if not a possible, maybe advantages one over another. Um, so those, you know, those are the kinds of defenses that are available. And in some ways, you know, that line of argument is kind of playing out in other lawsuits that people filed primarily, you know, churches or faith based institutions, which are attacking the, the, the stay home orders is being a different ground saying that they're discriminated against, but still kind of making a similar case, which like this is an overreach of state authority, executive authority, uh, that is, uh, too strong for what's needed. Speaker 2: 05:05 But also, um, improper, I would say the counter to that is I had done a story a couple of months ago about this emergency services act and how Newsome was, uh, governing under it and talking to experts in the thought it is an incredibly powerful law. It basically gives the governor almost carte blanche to govern in an emergency now is I don't think it was ever conceived that you would be a statewide emergency from Sandy syndrome to, you know, why Rica, but, but it gives him an enormous amount of authority. The legislature has expanded amended change, that law has gone along with it. So this is the world. We have been the law that we have that is being enforced. So I don't know, you know, short of a legislative change unless somebody really wants to challenge the basis. I love what you could do. Speaker 1: 05:51 Do you think this case marks a shift in the way San Diego is handling enforcement of health orders? Speaker 2: 05:58 Well, I think so. I mean, I think it got to the point with this second surge, or maybe the continuation of the first ever. You want to look at it and you could cover cases around the County, the noncompliance that you see a lot, uh, both kind of individuals not worry mass, but, but mostly from, uh, some, uh, business businesses, Jim seemed to be a locus of this. Uh, some restaurants, bars, you know, not complying and the County trying for many weeks months to get people to kind of voluntarily comply, to go along. As they said, you know, we hope that we'll educate them and people will obey the laws. I think the biggest just reached a point with someone like this, Jim, which I think the complaints had even cited like five times, uh, deputies had been out there five times saying, look, you know, you should be closed. Like you should be closed. I mean, at some point, you know, I think the County must've thought, Oh, you know, the hammer has to come down. Uh, and I think part of it too might be, um, you know, this is kind of a graduated step in, in, in this before it was sort of compliance than it was education, you know, now. Okay. We'll take you to court. I mean, it's sort of a tactic or a strategy that I think tries to say, look, the carrot, maybe hasn't worked. Here's the stick Speaker 1: 07:15 I've been speaking with Greg Moran with the San Diego union Tribune, Greg. Thanks a lot.