Baldwin County Circuit Court Judge Clark Stankoski denied a writ of mandamus against Sheriff Huey “Hoss” Mack this morning, one which sought to compel his enforcement of the statewide “safer at home” order issued by Gov. Kay Ivey April 28.
On Tuesday, Mack posted a video on Facebook declaring that he “will not take any law enforcement action” against businesses or religious institutions who acted in defiance of the order, but would simply “notify them” the order was in place, and leave it to other regulatory agencies such as the Alabama Department of Public Health to enforce.
On Wednesday, Baldwin County consumer advocate Paul Ripp — who has a history of taking legal action against municipal authorities in efforts to enact change — filed the writ, calling Mack’s statement a “dereliction of duties” and claiming it would create a “public health crisis.” In a complaint written by attorney Harry Still, Ripp claimed “this creates an emergency situation that the petitioner has a clear right to have enforced in Baldwin County. This appears to be political activity against an unpopular order and the petitioner has the same rights as any other citizen in Alabama to have this legally adopted order enforced.”
Last night, Mack filed an answer to the complaint (below), claiming Ripp failed to meet the burdens necessary for Stankoski to issue the writ. Further, it states Mack “is vested with wide discretion in the execution of the duties of his office. Thus, any statement made by the Respondent regarding the anticipated methods, means, strategies or type of enforcement of any law are within [his] authority and discretion.”
“Such statements, standing alone, can never give rise to any writ of mandamus for failure to act or dereliction of duty,” concluded attorney Randall Hillman.
According to parties privy to an emergency hearing via teleconference this morning, Mack claimed the BCSO has only responded to a handful of informal complaints concerning alleged violations of the health order, but determined all of the complaints were unfounded. Mack further testified that his decision not to conduct custodial arrests was a “collective policy” shared with other local law enforcement agencies, one reached after consulting with the U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of Alabama, the Alabama Office of the Attorney General, and the 12 chiefs of police for local departments in Baldwin County.
But at the same time, Mack said Attorney General Steve Marshall did not know about his plan before he announced it.
In his own testimony, Ripp defended the motion, stating that although he had no specific evidence Mack’s order created a public health crisis, both he and his wife have underlying health conditions which make them more susceptible to COVID-19. Still pointed to guidance from the Attorney General’s Office advising law enforcement agencies that they “are authorized” to issue misdemeanor citations and act “as needed” to enforce state health orders.
Stankoski allegedly upheld Hillman’s objection regarding a potential conflict of interest or political interest on Mack’s behalf, regarding the sheriff’s ownership of Mack Funeral Home and a commercial real estate business in Robertsdale.
Stankoski told the parties on the teleconference he would elaborate on his decision to deny the writ in a subsequent filing, but shortly after the hearing concluded, issued an order simply stating the plaintiff “failed to present any evidence of a justifiable controversy for the Court to decide. Any statement made by Sheriff Mack, standing alone, does not rise to the level of proof necessary for the Petitioner to prevail on his claims.”
Originally set to expire May 14, Gov. Kay Ivey this morning amended her statewide health order to allow restaurants, close-contact services and certain gatherings (including religious) to resume Monday, May 11, under certain restrictions and guidelines. More on the amended order is available here.
Answer to Ripp complaint pdf
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