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Health News Florida

Protesters Hold ‘Freedom Rally’ Against Jax Mask Ordinance Outside Courthouse

State House Rep. Anthony Sabatini has filed several lawsuits against Florida municipalities that have implemented mask mandates.
State House Rep. Anthony Sabatini has filed several lawsuits against Florida municipalities that have implemented mask mandates.

Outside the Duval County Courthouse, more than 100 unmasked protesters joined Florida House Rep. Anthony Sabatini as he announced a lawsuit against the city of Jacksonville to remove its current countywide mask ordinance.

“It's an absolutely terrible policy,” Sabatini said. “It's vaguely written, hard to implement, and it's accompanied by this atrocious punishment that violates the due process clause of the Florida Constitution.”

The city has not made it clear what the potential consequences of violating the mask order are. But Sabatini claims the city’s code of ordinances implies violators could face a fine or jail time.

“If you check the Jacksonville code of ordinances, it’s accompanied by the punishment of up to 60 days of jail and a $500 fine,” Sabatini said. 

Sabatini said that according to the city’s code, it showcases exactly what a local official can do in the event of a public health emergency. In his opinion, the code doesn’t support the mayor issuing a mask ordinance. 

According to Chapter 674 of the code,  section 674.206 regarding disaster emergencies, it states “the mayor may issue executive orders, proclamations and regulations and amend or rescind them in the fulfillment of this responsibility, and these executive orders, proclamations and regulations shall have the force and effect of law during the period for which they are effective.”

Later on it states the mayor can “take or direct measures concerning the conduct of civilians”. 

“It delineates the exact emergency powers the mayor and the council have in these situations - telling everybody to wear a mask is not one of them,” Sabatini said. 

Sabatini initially announced the lawsuit on Twitter before the start of Monday’s Freedom rally. 

In response, Jacksonville Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury said the lawsuit would “further strain taxpayer resources” and that the city’s Office of General Counsel made sure the mandate was in compliance with the law. 

“This is a guy who makes $190,000 a year of your money plus benefits, never missed a paycheck,” Sabatini said. “The majority of the people in this city are on either welfare or unemployment, and this guy has the gall to say this is frivolous litigation, a waste of taxpayer money. Take your $200,000 plus and give it back to the taxpayers. How about that?”

In the lawsuit, Sabatini is representing Jason French, the owner of French Capital Management, a Jacksonville-based financial planner.

“Most of my business during the day involves me getting in large rooms with people and explaining to them their options for financial and wealth independence,” French said. “I need to be able to clearly articulate that to people and I cannot do that if I have to wear a face mask, and they cannot clearly tell me what their financial goals are if they have to have a face mask.”

Chris Gommlich, a supporter of the lawsuit, said it comes down to government overreach.

“Some people want to wear masks. That's fine. Some people don't. That's also fine. But what's not fine is making me do it. That's the issue,” Gommlich said.

Jeff and Debby said they drove from Tampa to Jacksonville to show their support for the lawsuit. They said 

Craig Fuce said he lost his brother, Leslie, to COVID-19 in late May, and said he feels a mask mandate is necessary.
Credit Sky Lebron / WJCT News
Craig Fuce said he lost his brother, Leslie, to COVID-19 in late May, and said he feels a mask mandate is necessary.

wearing masks is preventing people from building up resistance to COVID-19.  

“This increase in cases is actually a good thing for healthy people. It builds your immunity and then 

everyone has antibodies. That's how we handle the flu and the cold and things like that,” Jeff said. 

While most were there in support of removing the mask mandate, there were a few counter-protesters. 

Craig Fuce carried a picture of his brother outside the courthouse, who died from COVID-19 in late May.

“My brother was healthy, 55-years-old, and now he's gone,” Fuce said. “I can't call him. My best friend. So it offends me that they don't want to wear masks to protect not only just me, but your family members.”

Sabatini has filed lawsuits in several cities throughout Florida, from South Florida to Tallahassee. He said he has his first hearing for the Tallahassee mandate on Friday, June 10. 

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.