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Spotsy restaurant owner defying mask mandate takes fight to court

A Spotsylvania judge will decide sometime next week whether a county restaurant will have to close its doors while constitutional issues surrounding state COVID-19 mandates are resolved in court.

Matt Strickland, owner of Gourmeltz in Cosner’s Corner, has refused to stop operating despite having his licenses suspended by the state. Strickland continues to serve food and alcoholic beverages to customers in defiance of Virginia Health Department orders.

Strickland and his supporters say Gov. Ralph Northam’s orders, which include mask mandates, social distancing requirements and limits on hours of operations, violate the constitutional rights of Strickland and others. Strickland said the state has been unable or unwilling to make the mandates make sense and he refuses to abide by them.

His supporters were out in force again Friday for a hearing in Spotsylvania Circuit Court. The courtroom was packed, and another 35 to 40 supporters stood outside with signs expressing their support for Strickland’s rights.

The health department is seeking to have a temporary injunction enforced that would force the restaurant to shut down. Judge Ricardo Rigual heard extensive arguments Friday from attorneys on both sides. Rigual declined to make a decision Friday, but said he would do so next week.

While the hearing was going on, people were outside the courthouse carrying signs saying such things as “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery” and “unconstitutional mandates are not law.”

“This isn’t just about one person,” Sudbeck said. “What’s going on is not constitutional and it’s not OK. Matt took a stand and we’re standing with him.”

Assistant attorney general Grant Kronenberg argued that Gourmeltz should not be allowed to operate without a license. He called it a “staggering claim” to suggest that the governor’s orders are unconstitutional, and he said Strickland has no constitutional right to operate a restaurant.

Bob Barr, a former Georgia Congressman who is one of the attorneys representing Strickland, said the state is trying to put Strickland out of business when “they can’t even articulate exactly what the threat is. The commonwealth is tying itself in knots trying not to explain the legality of it’s order.” Local attorney Martha Norton is also representing Strickland.

Strickland, an Army veteran, was greeted by loud cheers as he came out of the courthouse following the hearing. He spoke briefly about why he is defying the state order and thanked the crowd for its support.

Source: Keith Epps Free Lance Star

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