A judge said Thursday he will decide later on the scope of a hearing on whether Grace Community Church and its pastor should be held in contempt for continuing to hold indoor services.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff could fine both the Sun Valley house of worship and Pastor John MacArthur $3,000 each if he agrees with Los Angeles County health officials that they had no legal excuse for not abiding by his orders by holding an indoor service and for staging an outdoor service without requiring attendees to wear masks and observe social distancing, all on Sept. 13, three days after the preliminary injunction was issued.
About 3,000 people attended the indoor service, according to the county’s court papers.
In a sworn declaration, MacArthur said that as of Sept. 23, no coronavirus cases had developed among congregation members during nine indoor services.
Beckloff asked for briefing from both sides before the next hearing on Nov. 13. He said any court trials in the courthouse cannot occur before Nov. 16 and that he has two contempt hearings in other cases that will take place first.
Beckloff said he was inclined to agree 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 necessary. Amnon Siegel, an attorney for the county and a proponent of finding the church and pastor in contempt, said the only question is whether the preliminary injunction is void and that a lengthy hearing is not unwarranted.
Church attorney Charles S. LiMandri stated in his court papers that the contempt hearing should not take place until a trial is heard on whether the Sept. 10 preliminary injunction should be made permanent. That way, witnesses would not have to testify twice both time and money could be saved, LiMandri said.
Beckloff, however, said he is likely to set a date for the contempt hearing on Nov. 13. He also said his ruling on the preliminary injunction was not a trial on the merits and that he would not be the one to decide if it should be extended. The trial judge assigned for the trial is Judge Gregory Alarcon.
The church has filed a separate lawsuit against the county that is pending in Burbank Superior Court.