Court Battles Play Out, Judge Unconvinced By Spiffy’s, Farm Boy’s Lawyer

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Unconvinced by their legal arguments, a Thurston County Superior Court judge maintained temporary restraining orders issued against Spiffy’s and Farm Boy Drive-in Tuesday as the establishments remain open to in-person dining despite orders by Gov. Jay Inslee aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

And fines against the restaurants are mounting.

Spiffy’s in Napavine now faces $202,419 in fines from the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I), and Farm Boy Drive-in faces $183,141, not including the $2,000 per day fine levied last week after the Maytown restaurant was found in contempt of court.

At their back-to-back hearings Tuesday, the restaurants’ shared lawyer, Jason Celski, abandoned the argument he used last week that rumors of Farm Boy Drive-in offering indoor dining was “hearsay,” despite the restaurant itself loudly broadcasting its refusal to follow the mandates online.

Instead, Celski argued that the restraining orders should be dismissed because the restaurants are protecting customers and employees in other ways, and because other establishments are also putting Washingtonians in danger of infection.

“My clients have on their front door an indication that what they’re performing is a social gathering, and that individuals may not enter if they’ve had any symptoms of COVID, if they’ve not quarantined for the last 14 days, or they may (enter) if they’ve had a COVID test in the last 46 hours,” Celski said about Farm Boy Drive-in.

He also noted that the restaurant has provided waivers to employees to acknowledge the inherent risk of working in a restaurant bucking state law.

But Judge Chris Lanese was unconvinced, saying that a restaurant “may not use its discretion to replace what is the law with what it thinks the law should require.” He also noted that Celski didn’t reference any law that would allow the restaurants to have employees sign waivers giving up their protections under statewide workplace safety laws, “nor do I believe that there is such authorization under the law.”

Celski pointed to a Yakima Costco that had more than 150 employees infected with COVID-19, saying it’s unfair that Spiffy’s and Farm Boy Drive-in are being punished while other establishments stay open and spread the virus. It was an argument met with dismissal by the judge and Assistant Attorney General Michael Hall, representing L&I.

“It’s similar for being pulled over for speeding and arguing to the state trooper that you shouldn’t have been pulled over because other people are going faster,” Hall said.

Lanese repeated that the restaurants are still allowed to stay open and serve food under current COVID-19 restrictions using takeout or outdoor seating.

While Celski doubted that outbreaks were connected to indoor dining, L&I’s lawyers cited work from the state’s epidemiologist, Dr. Scott Lindquist, as well as the state’s outbreak reports. According to the state’s data dashboard, the most common setting out of the state’s cumulative outbreaks during the pandemic has been food service locations or restaurants, as of Dec. 26.

“In this case, what I have before me is voluminous affidavits filed by the state supporting their proposition that it is dangerous to have indoor dining occuring at the time within a restaurant. In opposition to that there is, in effect, nothing,” Lanese said. “No one with any sort of expert pedigree that may qualify as any expert witness, nor is there any science that is being offered to counter the state’s, in effect, uncontroverted and unchallenged positions in this case.”

Protests Draw More Far-Right Support, But Little Monetary Backing

Supporters of Spiffy’s and Farm Boy Drive-in convened again this week in a continuation of rallies that have featured far-right groups including militia group the Three Percenters, Patriot Prayer and People’s Rights, the creation of anti-government activist Ammon Bundy.

This week, the show of support also included militia-style vigilante group American Wolf, known for patrolling progressive protests and launching a fundraiser for Kyle Rittenhouse, currently free on a $2 million bail for allegedly driving over state lines to a protest against racial injustice and shooting three people with a semi-automatic rifle, leaving two dead. Supporters of Rittenhouse have said he acted in self-defence.

Winlock Mayor Brandon Svenson spoke at the Monday rally in front of Farm Boy Drive-in, marking another local official who has publicly thrown their support behind establishments defying Gov. Jay Inslee’s orders.

Despite the show of support, both establishments have raised only meager amounts of money to cover their hefty fines. As of Monday, the GoFundMe set up by Farm Boy Drive-in had collected just over $2,000 of their $100,000 goal while Spiffy’s had raised under $8,000 of their $50,000 goal.

In a post on Parler — a new and increasingly popular social media network for conservatives — about the restaurants this week, People’s Rights organizer Kelli Stewart said that while some officials have given businesses the greenlight to reopen, many are hesitant to do so given potentially painful fines. Courts have now approved temporary restraining orders against at least one other business as well: Stuffy’s II in Longview.

“We’re just continuing to try to educate people and try to understand what they’re facing when they open so they’re ready for the fight,” she said. “That’s what we want. We want people who are ready for this fight.”

Spiffy’s and Farm Boy Drive-in still show little sign of complying with mandates meant to curb COVID-19. Farm Boy Drive-in shared a post ahead of Monday’s rally, asking residents to “join us for our civil disobedience and grand re-opening at Farm Boy in defiance of these unconstitutional orders.”

“Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God,” the post read, featuring a popular gun rights slogan “Molon Labe,” or “come and take them” in Greek, a Sparta reference.