Aloha Coffee & Cafe owner Richard Dunnuck tried to claim that his status as a "living, breathing, natural-born citizen of this land" meant a judge couldn't order his Monterey business to close despite repeat violations of public health orders amid the Covid-19 pandemic. He tried to claim the U.S. Constitution guaranteed him the right to remain open in a manner of his own choosing.
He also tried to claim that Monterey County Superior Court Judge Lydia Villarreal and Deputy District Attorney Emily Hickok were violating their oaths of office, as well as his right to due process—and he demanded Villarreal recuse herself from his case.
"You are disqualified and you will step down," he told her, after attempting to question the judge about her oath of office.
"I don't accept that as a basis for disqualification," Villarreal responded.
And in the end, an infinitely patient Villarreal wasn't having it. Last week, she issued a restraining order preventing Dunnuck from continuing to operate after the county Health Department yanked his permit in December after finding repeat violations of mask and social distancing orders during the pandemic. Dunnuck, though, continued to operate after the loss of his permit and maintains he will not force patrons to wear masks.
On Thursday Jan. 14, Villarreal converted that restraining order into a preliminary injunction, ordering Aloha to remain closed unless and until Dunnuck obtains his requisite food service permit and complies with all Covid health orders issued by local and state authorities.
Dunnuck, who appeared without an attorney, could have used one. The 45-minute hearing took on a lunatic air as Dunnuck demanded the recusal, claimed that health privacy laws forbade him from asking patrons if a medical condition precluded them from wearing masks and told Villarreal and Hickok he planned on filing criminal charges against them, starting with the DA's office and Monterey County Sheriff and moving to the state Attorney General's and U.S. Attorney's offices.
"I have the right, the constitutional right, and a constitutional right can't be converted to a crime," Dunnuck said. "I do not consent to these hearings. I'm not going to be steamrolled."
He added that Hickok, in his opinion, was making up laws and committing perjury.
Villarreal ordered that the preliminary injunction notice be posted on Aloha's windows in prominent locations. She also ordered him to keep and maintain all sales records from the date of her most recent order, which takes effect tomorrow. While Hickok had requested the judge order utilities to shut off Aloha's water and power, she rescinded the ask on the water after finding that the building has shared water service with other tenants. And Villarreal declined to order the electrical service to be shut off because PG&E would not say, without Dunnuck's permission, whether the electric utility was also shared throughout the building.
In a separate action, the District Attorney's office also filed suit against The Tuck Box, which has had repeat violations of mask orders, social distancing orders and dining room closure orders during the pandemic.
In June, Tuck Box owner Jeffrety LeTowt was ordered to abide by shelter-in-place and mask orders. As part of a stipulated judgment, LeTowt paid $15,000, and the remainder was stayed unless it was found LeTowt continued to operate in violation of pandemic health orders.
LeTowt began serving customers again on Dec. 15, prompting DA Jeannine Pacioni to file evidence that LeTowt had continued to defy Villarreal's order, which triggered the fine.
"He said he wasn't going to pay it, so we have commenced court proceedings to begin to collect that," Hickok says. "We filed the new case because the violations from December can be subject to new and additional penalties."