A Cole County judge on Wednesday refused local health departments and the state’s two largest counties to step in and appeal a recent court ruling that overturned restrictions put in place to ease the spread of COVID-19.
The ruling, handed down by Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green on the very day his Nov. 22 order is expected to become final, will hold in place a consequential verdict that Attorney General Eric Schmitt used as the basis to end the local health ordinances.
Doug Moore, spokesperson for St. Louis County, said Green’s decision was “no surprise”, adding that it now gives the county “a way to appeal.” Stephen Jeffrey, an attorney representing Cooper and Livingston County Health Centers, said they were assessing whether to appeal and would file one within the next ten days if they sue one.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Schmitt said that with the now final decision, school districts and health departments should either rescind public health orders covered by it or face litigation.
âWe plan to start enforcement action on non-compliant entities as early as January,â Schmitt said.
Chuck Hatfield, an attorney who previously served in the attorney general’s office under Democrat Jay Nixon, said local agencies could ask the appeals court to review Green’s denial of their intervention requests.
âBecause the AG has announced that he is not going to appeal the underlying case on behalf of the department,â said Hatfield, âit really seems like the only way to get this case reviewed. “
In total, five entities – St. Louis and Jackson counties and three local health departments in Cooper, Livingston and Jefferson counties – have applied to be allowed to join the trial in order to appeal the decision or request a new trial.
But the attorney general’s office argued that it was not the counties or health departments’ decision to make.
In a file opposing their motion to intervene, Schmitt’s office said the attorney general had final authority in determining whether to appeal on behalf of the state – a decision it chose to do not continue, despite the request of the state health department.
Counties and public health departments are not “second attorneys general,” Schmitt’s office wrote, but rather are political subdivisions of the state that have declared their authority under regulations that the decision has made. declared unconstitutional. The requests for intervention “are clear attempts to circumvent the exclusive authority of the attorney general,” the file read.
Kimberley Mathis, Representative Counsel business owners who initially sued the Department of Health and Seniors Services wrote that county and health department criticism of Green’s decision “is nothing but bitter grapes.”
Mathis urged Green to dismiss their requests to join the case and said “the saga of tyrannical rule by the health department should finally come to an end.”
“The putative interveners have never sought to intervene until the last minute even though the matter has been pending for almost a year,” Mathis wrote, “and the leader of the pack, St. Louis County, was well aware of this matter for many months.
Counties and health departments were trying to overturn a ruling by Green last month that state regulations giving local health departments the power to issue health orders violated the Missouri Constitution.
Health orders unilaterally issued by local health authorities under the regulations were declared “null and void”.
While the lawsuit only challenged certain St. Louis County health orders, Green’s ruling and Schmitt’s subsequent application appear to affect all local entities that have imposed health orders, creating “confusion and uncertainty. important about which local health ordinances and regulations are valid and which are not. âJeffrey wrote in a file.
In a brief in support of their motion to intervene, attorneys for Jackson and St. Louis counties argued that Schmitt had “terrorized local governments and schools” to enforce the ruling.
Schmitt has sent cease and desist letters to school districts and health departments, warned of future disputes if they do not immediately comply and set up an inbox for parents to send complaints about districts’ ongoing mitigation actions.
Following Green’s decision on a dozen local health services have stopped some aspects of their work to monitor and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, citing a lack of guidance from the state’s health department.
Public health experts have warned that state regulations Green declared invalid limited not only the ability of health officials to contain the spread of COVID-19, but contagious disease more broadly.
Many school boards have voted to allow COVID protocols, like mask warrants, to expire or have stopped requiring students identified as close contact of a quarantined COVID case at home. During this time, others resisted Schmitt’s demands, highlighting local regulations and state laws that give them the power to keep their mitigation measures in place.
With Green’s decision set to become final under the rules governing civil cases, it remains to be seen how school districts and health departments may choose to move forward and whether the attorney general’s office will pursue enforcement in the future. case by case with individual districts. or departments that choose to keep mitigation measures in place.
“If they’re really going to come out and demand that the local authorities drop these orders, I think they’re going to have to plead them one by one,” Hatfield said. “I think in some ways, as an attorney general, you have to be a little careful about which battles you choose to fight because that’s a pretty good size.”
Citing the possibility that schools face future litigation, State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick also said started requiring schools to certify that they will comply with Schmitt’s requirements in order to take advantage of the fall in interest rates to refinance the bonds through the government.
According to emails obtained through an application under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, the attorney general’s office shared complaints it had received from community members about two school districts with which the treasurer’s office had agreements to current bond.
Mary Compton, spokesperson for the treasurer’s office, said Fitzpatrick asked the attorney general’s office to send complaints about those districts because their bail agreements were on hold.
The emails also showed that the treasurer’s office shared a signed certification form completed by Warren County School District R-III with the attorney general’s office. Compton said certification was provided to the attorney general’s office for their files.
Meanwhile, two school districts completed their fall semesters early last week faced with a large number of sick students and staff.
“It should be noted that General Schmitt’s attack on local public health authorities and school districts, using the judgment of this Court as his sword, has taken place against a backdrop of growing numbers of COVID-19 cases and of an increase in hospitalizations in Missouri, âsaid attorneys for the counties of St. Louis and Jackson wrote. âThe stakes in this case are high. “
This story has been updated since it was first posted.