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County judge suspends Governor Brown's COVID-19 executive orders in church lawsuit

A judge in the Baker County Circuit Court has approved a preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs in a suit against Governor Kate Brown, rendering her executive orders 'null and void.'

Posted: May 18, 2020 12:21 PM
Updated: May 18, 2020 5:44 PM

BAKER CITY, Ore. — A county judge has effectively suspended Governor Kate Brown's coronavirus-related executive orders while presiding over a lawsuit brought by Oregon churches and other individuals.

Baker County Circuit Court judge Matthew Shirtcliff approved a request from the plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction on the order, denying a request from state attorneys for a stay on the decision.

The lawsuit itself comes from at least 10 Oregon churches and multiple individuals who argue that Governor Brown's orders are not consistent with the state constitution or legal statutes. They are represented by attorney Ray Hacke of the Pacific Justice Institute.

“These churches don’t want to live in fear of violating the law, they don’t want their congregants to live in fear of violating the law,” Hacke told NewsWatch 12 last week. “A lot of churches share Governor Brown’s concerns about public health and safety, they don’t want to endanger anybody in their congregation, they certainly don’t want to endanger anybody in the community.”

While the vast majority of Oregon counties have entered Phase One of reopening, churches in particular continue to see restrictions that some find unacceptable. Under Phase One, socially distant gatherings of 25 people or less are allowed, opening the door to smaller services. Regardless, the plaintiffs in this case are arguing for a total rollback of these gathering restrictions.

Brown's lawyers requested a 48-hour hold on the judge's Monday decision, but the Baker County judge denied the request. According to Hacke, this makes Brown's coronavirus orders "null and void" effective immediately.

Both Hacke and a representative from Governor Brown's office acknowledged that the ruling, whatever its merit, applies broadly to the extended executive orders — many of which have been in place since March — and not narrowly to religious gatherings.

Shortly after 12:30 p.m. on Monday, Governor Brown's office issued a statement arguing that the science behind her orders "hasn't changed one bit," in spite of the court's decision.

“Today’s ruling from the Baker County Circuit Court will be appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court within hours to keep my emergency orders in effect," Brown said. "This will ensure we can continue to safeguard the health of all Oregonians — including frontline health care workers, those living in nursing homes, workers in agriculture and food processing plants, and Oregonians with underlying health conditions –– while the legal process moves forward."

State Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum agreed, saying in a statement that her office would immediately appeal the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court.

"When the legislature adopted public health emergency statutes, it specifically said that it was not limiting the governor’s authority to deal with large-scale emergencies," Rosenblum said. “With all respect, I believe the trial court’s grant of a preliminary injunction is legally incorrect. We will argue that the judge erred in his construction of the relevant statutes and that he abused his discretion in issuing the preliminary injunction. We will also be asking for an immediate stay of his order."

"Reopening the state too quickly, and without ongoing physical distancing, will jeopardize public health and cost lives," Brown continued. “It is irresponsible to dismiss the health risks and science behind our measures to stop COVID-19. We would be faced with the prospect of another mass outbreak without the tools that have proven to be effective in protecting our friends, families, neighbors, and loved ones from this disease.”

“I urge Oregonians to continue to comply with the measures in place," Rosenblum said. "They are there to protect all of us, and they are working. We are in close contact with the Governor and intend to support, as allowed by law, the critical work she has done, guided by public health experts, to ensure the safety and health of all Oregonians.”

NewsWatch 12 is working to get more information on the decision and its ramifications. This article will be updated as more details emerge.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 132412

Reported Deaths: 1799
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah28237458
Washington18512171
Marion16085238
Clackamas11577138
Lane8219108
Jackson686284
Umatilla670968
Deschutes490736
Yamhill316245
Malheur312452
Linn310246
Klamath242238
Polk241340
Josephine170633
Jefferson168725
Benton168414
Douglas166643
Union110416
Wasco106323
Columbia103318
Lincoln98517
Hood River94821
Coos93315
Morrow92710
Clatsop6695
Crook60410
Baker5665
Tillamook3622
Curry3185
Lake2295
Grant2131
Harney1734
Wallowa963
Gilliam481
Sherman470
Wheeler201
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2955323

Reported Deaths: 33342
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles100392313741
San Bernardino2482851560
Riverside2352352517
San Diego2098972065
Orange2093652320
Santa Clara914661060
Kern83547558
Sacramento802791080
Fresno79950932
Alameda65679757
Ventura59061412
San Joaquin56484748
Contra Costa50627430
Stanislaus41925739
Tulare40176501
Monterey34959249
San Mateo31291294
San Francisco28574254
Imperial24944463
Solano24654105
Santa Barbara23538228
Merced23492296
Sonoma23204234
Kings18661110
Placer16761173
San Luis Obispo15129128
Madera12883130
Santa Cruz11776113
Marin11345153
Yolo10240131
Shasta9594117
Butte9233121
El Dorado751544
Sutter748477
Napa723139
Lassen509413
San Benito485043
Yuba481827
Tehama397142
Tuolumne330438
Nevada309973
Mendocino307631
Amador295329
Lake243428
Humboldt226324
Glenn182419
Colusa16919
Calaveras153823
Siskiyou140813
Mono10834
Inyo92429
Del Norte8472
Plumas5735
Modoc3783
Mariposa3434
Trinity3024
Alpine730
Sierra700
Unassigned00
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