Taste of Sicily is a restaurant in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. Back in the early days of the pandemic, the siblings who own the joint, Michael Mangano and Christine Wartluft, complied with the mandates being issued and shut down their establishment. But in May, they had finally had enough, so they cleaned the place up and made allowances for social distancing and other precautions for any diners who wished to do so and they reopened. This flew in the face of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s orders and the restaurant was soon hit with almost $10,000 in fines for noncompliance.
In an episode that would have made Brigadier General Anthony “NUTS” McAuliffe proud, Mangano issued a response to the state government saying, “I’m not paying crap.” That led to the state taking the restaurant to court to force the payment of the non-compliance fines. This week the case was finally concluded and the owners were found not guilty. (Daily Caller)
The restaurant, which is co-owned by siblings Michael Mangano and Christine Wartluft, was found not guilty. Their lawyer, Eric Winter, told he Daily Caller that Wolf’s and the Department of Health’s Orders couldn’t be punished under Pennsylvania criminal law
“It is very questionable as to whether the law allows the Department of Health to issue orders as it did. It is not possible for a criminal penalty to be imposed for violating the orders,” he told the Caller…
“The mask mandate, the plexiglass, the social distancing, all of those things that the governor and [Secretary of Health Rachel] Levine were implementing are not an enforceable citation,” Mangano tells the Caller. “In other words, they can’t legally enforce that. This says that any fine that you get from the state is legally non-enforceable.”
Mangano is advising other business owners who have been pressed by the state in this fashion to simply refuse to pay the fines and plead not guilty. With this case as precedent, it may be very difficult for the Governor to force any other businesses to comply.
Of course, this wasn’t the first loss that Wolf has suffered over this issue. As the Daily Caller further notes, a federal judge ruled last month that the Governor’s restrictions and shutdown orders were unconstitutional. But even if they hadn’t, this court’s ruling would seem to suggest that in order to impose and collect fines for not complying with the rules, laws should be passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor first. Failing that, the rules have to be applied equally to all affected persons and businesses, which was not the case here. Mandates issued by executive fiat can be issued, but those actions apparently can’t be followed up with criminal penalties unless they are enforced in an equal fashion.
It’s also worth noting that there seems to be a bit of sour grapes on the part of Tom Wolf here. Lebanon County is under Republican leadership and the local GOP had been supportive of businesses like Mangano’s who were railing against the shutdown orders. In response, Wolf withheld $13 million in coronavirus relief funding from the county. It was the only county in the state to be treated in that fashion. There’s more than a little bad blood to go around it seems.
At least for today, though, Taste of Sicily is coming away with one in the W column. The next move is up to Governor Wolf.