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Helbachs Coffee sues City of Madison, Dane County over mask mandate

Helbachs Coffee in Middleton is suing the City of Madison and Dane County over the mask mandate, which the business owner argues is unlawful and not in the public's interest.
Published: Aug. 11, 2020 at 2:19 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV/AP) - Helbachs Coffee in Middleton is suing the City of Madison and Dane County over the mask mandate, arguing that the order is unlawful and not in the public’s interest.

The suit comes after the coffeehouse hung a sign on their business that read “Mask-Free Zone” and asked employees and customers to not wear face masks inside the business. Public Health Madison & Dane County then issued three citations against the business and threatened to remove Helbachs’ food and drink license.

According to court documents filed in Dane County on Monday, Helbachs Cafe LLC filed suit against the county and the city, as well as local officials including Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County Janel Heinrich, Assistant City Attorney Marci Paulsen, and Public Health Services Supervisor Bonnie Koenig.

The lawsuit argues that posting the sign was protected free speech, it was only up for 30 minutes, and was not enforced, the Associated Press reports.

“Rather, it was intended as purely a statement of disagreement with Government policy,” the lawsuit said.

Helbachs also alleges that it was illegally singled out for enforcement; the county has no authority to require stores to post a sign saying masks are required; the coffee shop was denied equal protection under the law; and the order was an unconstitutional taking of property because its impact hurt the coffee shop’s business and led to an intent to revoke its license.

Helbachs’ attorney Brent Eisberner, as well as attorneys for the city of Madison and Dane County, did not immediately return messages Tuesday.

Public health officials have urged the wearing of masks as one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus. However, protests against requiring the wearing of masks have popped up across Wisconsin and the country.

In July, a “Freedom Fund” on GoFundMe was launched to raise money for Helbachs. The organizer of that fundraiser, Casey Helbach, said that the money raised will be used to challenge the health department over the license and citations in court, as well as to set up a legal defense fund for other businesses owners “to fight for freedom and the unlawful orders” from the health department.

“Helbachs believes that this order is unlawful and should be opposed in court. We are not against the public’s safety but rather against Madison & Dane County Public Health infringing on our constitutional rights,” according to the GoFundMe.

According to a “Notice of intent to revoke license” issued to Helbachs on July 31, Janel Heinrich, the Public Health Officer for Madison and Dane County, intends to seek revocation of their food and drink license for failing to comply with any provision of the Dane County Ordinances.

Heinrich argues in the notice that starting July 13, Helbachs engaged in repeated violations of Emergency Order #8. Those violations included hanging the “Mask Free Zone” sign, and directing that masks should be removed upon entry to the business.

That hearing regarding the removal of the food and drink license is scheduled for Aug. 25 at 10 a.m.

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