A judge has said he will allow pretrial discovery and the calling of witnesses in a contempt hearing against Grace Community Church and its pastor for holding indoor services in alleged violation of a September court order issued over coronavirus concerns.
On Friday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff also set a Jan. 15 date for the contempt hearing, which will deal with whether fines should be levied on the Sun Valley church on Roscoe Boulevard and Pastor John MacArthur for continuing to allow Sunday worship in the church’s interior despite the judge’s issuance of a preliminary injunction on Sept. 10. Friday’s hearing dealt with the scope of the contempt hearing.
Church lawyers have stated in their court papers that they 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.
In their court papers, county lawyers say the depositions are not necessary and that the only question is whether the preliminary injunction is void.
Church attorney Charles S. LiMandri told the judge he will try to narrow the scope of the pretrial discovery so that the parties do not have to come to court to have Beckloff resolve their differences. Limandri also said that depending on the size of the fines the county seeks against the defendants, his clients may be entitled to a jury trial.
LiMandri said the pretrial discovery is necessary because church officials believe the county has displayed more “animus” toward churches with its coronavirus health orders than any entity other than gyms. He said tattoo parlors and nail salons have received greater consideration than have churches.
LiMandri also noted that San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil on Nov. 6 issued a temporary restraining order enjoining Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Diego County from enforcing their COVID-19 restrictions at a strip club, finding that the dancers’ activities were constitutionally protected expression.
“You can’t pray to almighty God, but you can watch nude dancing,” LiMandri said.
In their court papers, church lawyers say they want to ask Davis to explain why he has not sought a temporary restraining order against any political protesters and why he sought an injunction against the church rather than solely issuing citations.
LiMandri told the judge he would like to question Kuehl about the county’s decision to revoke the church’s use of a county-owned parking lot the house of worship began using in 1975.
Beckloff agreed with county lawyers that the contempt hearing should be held before a trial on the merits of a permanent injunction. Limandri argued the contempt hearing should take place afterward.
The church has filed a separate lawsuit against the county that was recently transferred from Burbank Superior Court to Glendale Superior Court. Judge Ralph C. Hofer will hear the trial regarding a possible permanent injunction, but no date is yet set.
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