Cafe Rosetta fined $2,500 for violating court order
LANSING — Cafe Rosetta received another $2,500 fine Friday for continuing to flout COVID-19 restrictions while operating last week.
Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Wanda Stokes levied the fine after a hearing Friday for Cafe Rosetta owner Amy Heikkinen to explain why she shouldn’t be held in contempt of court for violating its previous order.
Cafe Rosetta has already paid $7,500 in previous fines for violating the state’s emergency order and previous court orders.
“The first time, I was willing to give you the opportunity to try to work it out,” Stokes said. “But repeated acts of non-compliance said to me either you don’t understand, or you don’t care. And if you don’t understand, that’s your lawyer’s business. And when you don’t care, it becomes mine.”
On Feb. 4, the clock started on a 15-day deadline for Cafe Rosetta to give the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) proof it would comply with state orders to get its license restored. Cafe Rosetta had been operating without a license since December, when it was taken away for allowing indoor dining during the state’s pause.
Bars and restaurants with valid licenses were allowed to reopen for indoor dining last week, with COVID-19 protocols in place such as a 25% capacity limit.
During last week’s court hearing, Cafe Rosetta attorney David Kallman said aside from being open, the cafe had complied with the state’s emergency order.
Police officers found otherwise. Two plainclothes officers from the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team (UPSET) visited the site on Feb. 5. Nobody, including employees, was wearing masks, according to a Michigan State Police incident report. Tables were closer than 6 feet apart.
They described a “steady flow” of customers, with 15 people inside at one point, not including five employees. There was also no sign-in sheet or request for personal information for contact tracing.
“Nearly every table inside the restaurant was occupied,” the detectives wrote. “People were eating and walking around as though it was business as usual.”
Kallman said he had connected with co-owner Amy Heikkinen on Feb. 5 to discuss the ruling. After opening for part of the next day, Heikkinen closed early and has not been open since, he said.
Heikkinen made a statement under oath at Friday’s hearing, which she attended in person. She apologized for keeping the cafe open after last week’s hearing. She hadn’t talked with legal counsel about last week’s hearing until the afternoon of Feb. 5, she said.
“I really don’t have any valid excuse for continuing to stay open at that point,” she said. “I was afraid that I was going to lose everything, that it was either that or close forever. I didn’t realize that there were other options.”
Kallman said Cafe Rosetta submitted a COVID-19 preparedness plan to MDARD as a prelude to reopening.
“She is committed,” he said. “She will comply with this court’s order. She will stay closed, whether that means we resolve this Monday, or we resolve it in three weeks.”
“What do I have to support that that assures us we won’t be back here again?” Stokes replied.
Kallman pointed to Cafe Rosetta’s closure since Saturday as a sign Heikkinen is making a good-faith effort.
“I’ve had a clear discussion, and I think my client will tell you that she’s prepared to do what is necessary until her license is back and this court’s order is lifted,” he said. “She understands that both those things have to happen before she can reopen.”
Stokes said she appreciated Heikkinen’s statement, and believed her to be sincere. But while she empathized with restaurants, Heikkinen’s reasons for violating the court order were not valid, she said. Stokes noted that the same regulations applied throughout the state, with nearly every other restaurant complying.
“If we will allow people to just flagrantly decide, ‘I’m not going to follow that order,’ then our justice system, just like the system the state has for licensure, will fall apart,” she said.
Cafe Rosetta remains under an injunction barring it from operating until its license is restored.
The hearing took place during the time State Rep. Greg Markkanen and State Sen. Ed McBroom had set for office hours at Cafe Rosetta. They announced Thursday the meeting was postponed due to scheduling conflicts.