Court finds Cafe Rosetta in contempt of court
HOUGHTON — Café Rosetta was found in civil contempt of court during a Friday morning hearing conducted in Ingham County Circuit Court. The finding by Circuit Court Judge Wanda Stokes was in response to a motion filed by attorney Danielle Allison-Yokom on behalf of the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD). The motion as filed had two investigation reports attached to it, several affidavits, and photographs, along with a request for a fine of $7,500, which subsequently was lowered to $2,500, which was then temporarily suspended.
The court had issued a restraining order against the café on Dec. 30, Allison-Yokom told the court, which the restaurant has ignored since it was issued, and has continued to operate as a food establishment.
“Under these circumstances,” said Allison-Yokom, “we think that contempt is appropriate.”
When Judge Stokes asked if the fine amount was a bit harsh, Allison-Yokom replied that the café continues to operate in spite of numerous orders from the state of Michigan, for longer than a month, and has continued to operate without a food license, which is required by state law.
Although the requested fine is harsh, said Allison-Yokom, MDARD is not seeking incarceration of the owners, but that the department feels strongly that some action must be taken in order to convince the café that it needs to comply with the order.
When asked by the judge, attorney David Kallman, representing Café Rosetta, said that because the case is unique, and the timeframe so compressed, and from all accounts he has heard, the health orders issued by the Michigan Dept. of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) are going to be lifted next week (which has not been confirmed), saying, “indoor dining will be resumed, if you believe what you’re hearing, when the order is lifted this coming week.”
Kallman then told the judge that Café Rosetta’s refusal to comply is “really a survival situation for her,” then denied having had a notice for a hearing for Friday. The hearing was scheduled to occur at 1 p.m. the day before, but due to technical difficulties relating to hearing being online, it was postponed until 10 a.m. Friday. Kallman added that his firm has had not opportunity to study the motion, such as looking into case law or studying the issues. He asked for time to study the issue.
Allison-Yokom replied that Kallman and his client were aware of the court order since it was issued and in spite of that, his client continues operating, nor did he indicate that his client was making any attempt to comply with the order. Further, she argued, Café Rosetta does not have a license to operate.
“I have to tell you,” Stokes said, “that when it comes to court orders, in my opinion, civil disobedience is not an option. It just absolutely is not.”
While she understands the environment and circumstance society is in currently, she said, everyone feels put upon, based on the unprecedented situation society is now in, but everyone is in this together.
“The laws of our country, the laws of our state,” said Stokes, “are just very important, and if we start to take on the opinion that ‘if I don’t like it I can decide to do whatever I want to do,’ then I think we are moving to a point in our judicial system, and I think, in our democracy, where our judiciary and rules don’t matter anymore, and they won’t work for anyone.”
She went on to say that the law in Michigan, MCL600.1701-G, is clear: violation of a court order is punishable by contempt and that is for any time a lawful order, decree, or process of the court is disobeyed, adding the law is issued seriously, and it must be taken seriously.
“It’s not required that you agree with the order, you don’t even have to agree that the order is lawful. But the court has made it clear that the order must be complied with at the time it’s entered.”
Simply on the objective basis that there is belief that a law is wrong, or that it even might be declared invalid on appeal, she told Kallman:
“You have not right — and place yourself in jeopardy — to disobey that order,” Stokes declared. “Café Rosetta, your client, simply cannot choose to ignore the orders of this court, ignore the Administrative Law Judge, or the…extension orders.”
In finding Café Rosetta in civil contempt of court, she ordered a fine of $2,500 be assessed, consistent with Michigan statutes. She then suspended the fine until 5 p.m. Wednesday, giving time for Kallman to submit a written report to the court on the reasons the fine should not be paid.