Carmel restaurant owner Jeffrey LeTowt wanted a fight and it looks like he's getting one.
LeTowt made news the week of May 10 when he opened his restaurant, The Tuck Box, for in-house dining in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom's stay-at-home order and county Health Officer Edward Moreno's shelter-in-place order. After a round of warnings—from the Monterey County District Attorney's Office, Carmel Police and the state Alcoholic Beverage Control board—District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni cited him on May 14, charging him with three misdemeanors for violating the order, failing to maintain social distancing and for not wearing a mask while serving customers.
When that happened, he told TV media that if they wanted to shut up down, they should lock him up.
“I’m still going to stay open. If you want to send the SWAT Team and cuff me, come do it,” LeTowt said in an interview on KSBW on that Thursday night. "It's all politics and you don't have the right to bankrupt me."
Locking him up doesn't appear to be on the immediate horizon, but today the DA filed a motion for a temporary restraining order against The Tuck Box and LeTowt. If a judge issues the TRO, it would prohibit LeTowt from keeping the restaurant open for in-house dining.
A hearing on the motion will take place at 10am tomorrow, May 21, in Department 15 of the Monterey County Superior Courthouse in Monterey. Because courts are still closed to the public, anyone wishing to listen to the hearing can call the listen-only courtroom number at (774) 267-3105.
In the TRO application, the DA writes that her office is seeking to prevent LeTowt from providing dine-in or tableside service to customers until such activity is authorized by the county health officer. They are also seeking a judge to order LeTowt and any staff members to wear face coverings if they opt to provide to-go service and maintain social distancing between themselves and customers.
"The People also request authorization to enter onto the property at The Tuck Box restaurant to post notice of this Order in visible locations on said Property, including, but not limited to, exterior fences, gates, structures, doors or any other structure thereupon, and to distribute this Order to Defendants and/or any other persons present on the Property," the order states. In addition, it asks a judge order LeTowt to "preserve evidence related to this matter pertaining to the period of March 17, 2020 (the date restaurants were prohibited from allowing dine-in service) through and including the date Monterey County permits dine-in restaurant service, including but not limited to: sales receipts, sales register reports, and/or deposit slips evidencing daily sales totals of customer purchases for food and beverages."
LeTowt saw a groundswell of support from like-minded people, who flocked to his restaurant over the May 15 weekend and were photographed drinking and dining on the premises, with no masks or social-distancing apparent. A GoFundMe campaign was launched to hire an attorney to defend him against the criminal citations; LeTowt has retained The Dhillon Law Group as his counsel.
Dhillon principal Harmeet K. Dhillon is the former vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party and a well-known attorney in religious freedom and First Amendment cases, mostly representing conservative causes and plaintiffs.
In a press release, she stated: "Unlike the big-box retailers that were allowed to remain open during the shelter-in-place, restaurant employees are individually required to earn a permit from the State of California by passing a test that is heavily focused on cleanliness, sanitation, and how to prevent the spread of pathogens.
"Any local or state order that gives untrained hourly workers and their retail employers greater freedom than licensed, trained professionals is irrational and unjust," she writes. "It is truly saddening that a district attorney would go to such lengths to attack a small business owner attempting to generate revenue to pay its employees and bills, and seeking to serve customers safely. We look forward to vigorously defending The Tuck Box in court."