Judge Doubles Down on Order Allowing Restaurants to Reopen

Legal analyst says order means indoor dining is back

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Thursday afternoon, a San Diego judge held a last-minute hearing to clarify a bombshell court order allowing strip clubs, strip clubs that serve food, and thus restaurants to reopen.

The order doesn't just buck Governor Gavin Newsom's Dec. 5 shutdown order (which forced strip clubs to close and relegated restaurants to takeout only), this also undermines the tier system that preceded the shutdown.

Legal analyst Dan Eaton said the order doesn't just allow for on-site dining again, it allows limited capacity indoor dining - something that was a no-no during the Purple Tier.

"The fact is that San Diego is the second-largest jurisdiction in the state of California," Eaton said. "And yes this is a big deal because it undermines the governor’s regional pod shutdown pod order as it applies to a broad sector of the population. And there is also the potential that other counties will look at what the judge in this case did and agree with it. In that case, you can see a cascading effect."

Meaning attorneys in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara might file requests asking judges for a judicial review of what happened in San Diego.

An attorney for the state dialed into Thursday's hearing, and County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher says the State appealed the order within hours after the judge announced he did in fact intend to reopen all restaurants in San Diego County.

Throughout his order, the judge used public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten's own words against the County. Quoting Wooten as saying restaurants were not the source of outbreaks. Another time, Wooten publicly said closing indoor dining would be dangerous as it would encourage less safe private gatherings at homes.

But it appears the County no longer stands by those statements. County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said Wooten made those remarks at a time when case rates were in the single digits. Now, that hospitals are essentially rationing healthcare, Fletcher says those statements no longer hold water.

Fletcher says he believes the judge got it wrong and is not a "public health officer, medical doctor, and policymaker." The supervisor believes an appeals judge will overturn the case.

In the meantime, it appears the county was caught off guard. A closed session is scheduled for Friday to determine the next steps.

In the meantime, Supervisor Fletcher says the county will not be enforcing public health orders at restaurants or strip clubs.

Supervisor Jim Desmond, who voted against appealing such a decision, says he is pleased with the ruling.

Desmond's district is predominantly in the North County, where dozens of businesses have flagrantly defied the latest shutdown orders - something owners have told NBC 7 they had to do in order to survive.

In a Zoom interview hours before the hearing, Desmond said he feels it's safer to meet businesses in the middle, in this case, to allow limited indoor dining, than to roll out restrictions too strict for folks to actually follow.

Other businesses that have been forced to close due to the shutdown, like salons, barbershops, and gyms, cannot reopen under this order. Fletcher says the county will continue enforcing restrictions on those businesses.

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