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Health Department, Rocking R Bar saga continues

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Town Crier “Briefs from the Region” (1) – 1/15/21

Montana’s Attorney General Austin Knudsen on Jan. 14 directed Marty Lambert, who represents Gallatin City-County Health Department, to dismiss a case the county has against Rocking R Bar in Bozeman. On Nov. 28, the health department announced it was taking legal action after Rocking R refused to follow a local health rule requiring bars and restaurants to close by 10 p.m. The health rule is part of a series of business restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, and is backed by a study revealing those who tested positive were more likely to have been in social settings directly prior to their diagnosis. While the county won the case, Knudsen says the health rule “defies common sense” and is an example of “government overreach.”

Lambert replied in a Jan. 14 statement shortly after: “The State of Montana is not a party to the R Bar case. The Attorney General may lack authority to ‘order and direct’ a county attorney to dismiss a case where a local government entity, and not the State of Montana, is the plaintiff.

The Attorney General’s letter cites a rule of civil procedure providing that all the parties may sign an agreement to the [sic] dismiss a case. Today I talked to a party to the R Bar case, Health Officer Matt Kelley. Mr. Kelley does not agree to dismissal, so the rule cited by the attorney general cannot be employed to dismiss the case by noon on Jan. 15, 2021.

As to the bellicose remarks in the Attorney General’s press release, the Governor’s Jan. 13, 2021, Directive recognized that local health authorities may enact rules or orders more restrictive than the Governor’s.”

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