Judge: Public health outweighs Milford pub opening
A Superior Court judge concluded Wednesday that Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive orders did not violate the constitutional rights of the owners of a small neighborhood bar in Milford that was forced to close in March.
Kristine Casey of Casey’s Irish Pub sued the state in June claiming the decisions the governor was making were unconstitutional because they forced her to temporarily close the pub, which has three employees and a maximum capacity for 59 people.
“The pub is not a tourist attraction, but a neighborhood bar frequented by a small nucleus of regular customers,” the original complaint states. An estimated 10 percent of the pub’s business is food and 90 percent is beer and other alcohol.
In the lawsuit, Casey argued that it was not possible to provide outdoor drinking and dining because of the physical location of the pub. The pub is at the end of a strip of stores, and right outside the door of the pub is a sidewalk abutting a parking lot where there are 3 or 4 striped parking spaces.
“Outdoor service is not a viable option physically because the tables would completely block the sidewalk and there would be no protection from cars approaching to park, and fiscally because not enough customers could be served,” the complaint states.
While it may be difficult to operate the business under current guidelines, the court didn’t believe the state violated the rights of the pub owners.
In her decision, Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis concluded that the governor “had the authority to issue executive orders to protect the public health.”
The state admitted the pub owners were suffering “irreparable harm and that they lack an adequate remedy at law.” But the attorney general argued that public health was more important.
“Our constitution is unambiguous” Attorney General William Tong said. “The governor has broad authority after the declaration of public health and civil preparedness emergencies to take affirmative steps to protect public health and to save lives. The governor’s orders have been lawful and justified, and they have saved lives. These measures have not been without sacrifice, but nothing can be more important right now than keeping people safe.”
Attorneys for Casey’s Pub argued that the executive orders are unconstitutional because they give the governor power to legislate that he otherwise wouldn’t have under the state constitution.
But Bellis concluded that the General Assembly created a special committee with the ability to disapprove of the governor’s declarations and that committee of 10 voted not to overrule the extension of Lamont’s emergency powers.
“In making this decision, the court feels great sympathy for the economic plight of the plaintiffs and other similarly situated individuals,” Bellis wrote. “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense disruptions not only to our public health system, but also to the state’s economy as a whole. Nevertheless, in our constitutional system of governance, it is up to the legislatures, not courts, to decide on the wisdom and utility of legislation ... Courts do not substitute their social and economic beliefs for the judgment of legislative bodies, who are elected to pass laws.”
Contacted after business hours, the attorney for the pub was not immediately available for comment so it was unclear if the pub will appeal the decision.