The mandatory order on Miami-Dade County masks will remain in force after a county judge this week upheld the measure, saying public health imposed a “small interference” in everyday life caused by applying the mask.
The verdict came in response to lawsuit filed against the county by local travel agent Linda Cuadros, who claimed the mask order violated her rights to privacy and legal proceedings. Cuadros described the mandate as a “radical violation of reasonable and legitimate expectations of privacy.”
Miami-Dade County has a mandate mask in force since April 2020, but has failed to enforce fines since September due to a restriction imposed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The court’s decision was pronounced against Cuadros on February 16. He dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning Cuadros would have a chance to amend and re-file the lawsuit. He has 20 days from the date of the verdict.
Rejecting the case, Judge Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts wrote that “public protection outweighs the individual’s right to decide whether to wear a mask or not.” He compared the command of the mask to the regulations of Florida, which require motorcyclists to wear helmets.
“Florida case law is replete with examples of how certain clothing regulations are the proper exercise of government police power,” the judge wrote.
Rodriguez-Fonts applied a legal standard known as strict control, according to which the county had to show that the order of the masks was a minimally intrusive way to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. According to the judge, the county has borne that burden.
“A mask mandate is the least intrusive way in achieving the goal of reducing the spread of COVID-19, as the body may need some time to show symptoms, and in some cases it may not show any symptoms,” the judge ordered states.
Rodriguez-Fonts also rejected Cuadros’ claim that the order of the masks was too broadly written and left “significant terms undefined.” He revealed that “there is nothing unclear about” the version of the order that is currently in force. The warrant has been revised since the lawsuit was filed, making some of Cuadros’ legal arguments controversial, the judge noted.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber says so New Times the verdict provides an appropriate end to a legal debate he considered “absurd” from the outset.
“We ask people to stop at the stop signs, not to smoke indoors [mask] order was a health and safety measure aimed at protecting the public, not just the person wearing the mask, ”Gelber says.
The verdict is the latest in a series of defeats in the courtroom of Cuadros’ attorney, Anthony Sabatini, who is also a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives. Sabatini has faced more than a dozen challenges with mandatory mandates for masks across the country. Judges vehemently rejected his clients’ claims that the rules were unconstitutional.
The Fourth District Court of Appeals also issued a decision last month accepting a warrant for the Palm Beach County mask, in a case filed by attorney Louis Leo of the Florida Civil Rights Coalition. The appeals court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the mandate of the mask in Palm Beach was a form of involuntary treatment.
In July, Sabatini told New Times to believe that constitutional rights “should not be taken away as a means to increase security” for what he sees as a small section of the population at risk of death from COVID. In public statements, Sabatini also questioned the effectiveness of the masks, saying they give people a false sense of security.
Experts called by local authorities to testify in the Sabataini cases took a completely different stance. In a lawsuit against the city of Deland for his mandate for masks, Dr. Peter Harman of Dayton Beach testified that wearing masks is “extremely effective when incorporated into other preventative measures.”
“This is not a salon,” Harman testified. “I watch people die every day. And they may not be you, they may not be healthy people, but they are someone’s grandmother.”
The local execution of the order for the masks was stopped by the decision of DeSantis from September to suspend mask-related penalties. Gelber speaks New Times that Miami Beach police officers share masks instead of quotes because DeSantis made it impossible to enforce fines.
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