A week away from making their arguments about the scope of a contempt hearing against Grace Community Church and its pastor for holding indoor services in alleged violation of a September court order related to the coronavirus, the lawyers disagree whether two top Los Angeles County officials should be deposed.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff could fine both the Sun Valley house of worship and Pastor John MacArthur if he agrees with Los Angeles County health officials that they had no legal excuse for not abiding by his orders by continuing to hold indoor services on Sundays at the house of worship on Roscoe Boulevard despite his issuance of a preliminary injunction on Sept. 10.
Church lawyers are seeking the depositions of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis. They note that during a Sept. 24 hearing, Beckloff said he agreed with the church’s attorneys that they should be able to raise constitutional issues and have a longer trial than lawyers for the county believe is needed.
But in their court papers, county lawyers say the depositions are not necessary and that the only question is whether the preliminary injunction is void.
In their court papers, church lawyers say they want to ask Davis to “explain in detail why you have not sought a temporary restraining order against any political protesters or protest organizers” and they seek to have him provide details as to why he sought an injunction against the church rather than solely issue citations.
“Plaintiffs have refused to produce Dr. Muntu Davis for a deposition, despite him being a named plaintiff and the signatory to a key declaration,” the church lawyers state in their court papers. “By so doing, plaintiffs attempt to render themselves the finder of fact on the issue of contempt and to strip defendants of any ability to effectively defend themselves.”
The declaration referred to by the church lawyers is the one Davis gave in support of the preliminary injunction.
“Since such a declaration is sworn testimony, defendants are entitled to confront him and subject him to cross-examination,” the church attorneys maintain in their court papers.
The church attorneys further state in their court papers that they want to ask Kuehl, whose Third District includes Sun Valley, about “any and all actions taken by the county of Los Angeles against Grace Community Church of the Valley, including evidence regarding the basis, motivation and reasons for such actions.”
But county lawyers state in their court papers state that the depositions are “not permitted and … irrelevant to the validity of the preliminary injunction order.”
Church attorneys can argue that the preliminary injunction order is unconstitutional on its face, but they are not permitted to conduct a “wide-ranging probe of the reasoning and subjective motivations of county officials in promulgating the health order that defendants are violating,” the county lawyers argue in their court papers.
The county lawyers further state that the contempt hearing should be held sooner rather than later and not after a trial on the merits of a permanent injunction should be permanent, as the church attorneys have suggested.
“Defendants’ attempt to kick the can down the road until after a trial on the merits should be rejected,” the county lawyers state in their court papers. “The contempt proceeding should proceed now and should be limited to defendants’ challenges … as to whether this court exceeded its jurisdiction in issuing the preliminary injunction order, i.e., whether the order is void on its face.”
The hearing on the scope of the contempt hearing will be held Nov. 13. The church has filed a separate lawsuit against the county that was recently transferred from Burbank Superior Court to Glendale Superior Court.