On Thursday morning, May 21, Jeffrey LeTowt of The Tuck Box had his day in court. Or at least his first day of several.
The Monterey County District Attorney yesterday filed an application for a temporary restraining order seeking to force The Tuck Box to close, after the restaurant remained open in defiance of three misdemeanor charges for violating Monterey County's shelter-in-place order and face covering requirement.
"Defendants are operating an unlawful and potentially dangerous virtual monopoly on dine-in restaurant service in violation of emergency public health orders," according to the DA's application. "Defendants' unlawful conduct gives them an unfair advantage over similarly situated businesses who are complying with the emergency health orders."
In a hearing on Thursday morning, May 21 at 10am, an attorney representing LeTowt argued the temporary retraining order was unnecessary.
"We believe the initial emergency orders that were put in place are no longer legally justified," said Bilal A. Essayli. " “There is no imminent public health crisis in Monterey County. Only eight people have died.”
The latter was a point he repeated again: “They’ve only had eight deaths. That is statistically zero.”
Monterey County Superior Court Judge Lydia Villarreal paraphrased Essayli's argument: "The defendant’s position is essentially saying that the laws are unfair and should not exist,” she said. “Certainly there is a way to challenge those laws and the defendant is free to challenge the propriety of those laws. But as we currently sit here, the laws are what they are. The court is persuaded and is going to grant the request for a temporary restraining order.”
But a few hours after the hearing was over, The Tuck Box was still open for business. A server advised prospective customers that sitting down was at their own risk, and the DA might arrive to shut them down.
A signed copy of the order will be posted on the exterior of the restaurant.
"Of course, we want him to comply," Deputy District Attorney Emily Hickok says. "That’s what we’ve always wanted. We hope he complies. If he chooses not to, we would file an order to show cause.
"One thing that is additionally egregious about this situation is they’re not complying with social distancing and they’re not wearing masks," she adds. "Even if dine-in service is allowed in the next few weeks, there are still public safety issues that need to be addressed here."
LeTowt declined an interview on Thursday afternoon, and his attorneys declined to comment on the fact that he remains open in defiance of the order signed today.
A hearing is set for June 5 in which the judge will decide whether to extend the temporary restraining order until a trial date is set for the DA's allegation of unfair business practices.
If the county's shelter-in-place orders change between now and any of those dates, the temporary restraining order signed today would change to allow The Tuck Box to operate in accordance with whatever the standards are for dine-in establishments.