Tuck Box - PS 5.jpg

The Tuck Box has remained open in defiance of the charges. 

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. 

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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(8) comments

Diane Rowe

It has been very interesting to follow the story on Jeff LeTowt and his restaurant, The Tuck Box. I'm all for small business. On one hand, I'm proud that he's standing up for his small business and patrons. On the other hand, he has a more important responsibility as a citizen in doing all he can to protect his patrons and his neighbors. What I thought would be a better idea than hiring lawyers is coordinating with the County Health Department, and Health and Safety personnel of Carmel and medical community in determining better ways to make his place a safe one. How about creating a control area where he can socially distance his patrons and ask them after they have had a nice meal, to keep in touch with him, the County Health Dept and Medical community and report if any of them have contracted the virus or even take a test to determine if they have the virus. Working together rather than creating divisiveness, would better serve our entire community.

John Towley

They aren't utilizing face masks while serving people? That's an awful, ignorant choice based on people's health. You can argue the economic needs and I don't care...but there's no reason not to try to make a living while recklessly and needlessly putting people at risk. What's next? He's going to protest not washing his hands after using the restroom? Never going back there, good luck dealing with the legal fees.

Michael Slva

go Tuck Box! They can't arrest us all. If Gov. Nusellini would have asked us to help and social distance, etc... we would have. But to order us, no. Freedom is a value and right. This is hurting people that make under 50K a year, aka the middle class. Rise up and challenge the "science and data"

Jabroni Ibsen

I do not like the place untouchable position of science, but the numbers are very much there. People are dying and not having the freedom to dine in seems like the least of many people's worries. If anything, there should be rent forgiveness, frequent stimulus checks, and widespread testing. Not being able to go out and eat is not an infringement on liberties.

Marilyn Galli

Thank you Tuck box for standing up for your liberty and freedom that the District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni wants to take from all law-abiding citizens.

Monte Flockkngham

Well is statistically zero... except for the 8 people who have died. But are people really going there to dine in? Take-out not good enough?

Marilyn Galli

Look up the word 'Open' and read what it says.

Monte Flockkngham

I’m confused. What is this in response to?

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