2020 | Government

Elrich says restaurants are taking ‘flimsy approach’ in legal fight against county

Restaurants are seeking to overturn executive order banning indoor dining

share this

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich had harsh words for a group of restaurants seeking to overturn the county’s executive order that bans dining at indoor establishments.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland announced Friday that they are seeking injunctions and temporary restraining orders against Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, for their bans on indoor dining, as well as against Baltimore City, for its ban on indoor and outdoor dining. About 100 restaurants from the three jurisdictions are involved as plaintiffs. Montgomery County’s ban on indoor dining was proposed by Elrich and approved by the County Council on Tuesday, the day it took effect.

Elrich told Bethesda Beat in a phone interview Friday evening that county officials frequently talk about the data and their reasoning for decisions like shutting down indoor dining.

“That’s a pretty flimsy approach,” he said of the restaurants pointing to the lack of data included in the executive order. “We talk about it all the time. I read the governor’s order and there are no lengthy explanations. … The contact tracing data is out there.

The lawsuit follows an effort by a group of restaurateurs in Anne Arundel County last week, who convinced a judge to temporarily block a ban on indoor dining there until Dec. 28.

Elrich said there’s “no way of knowing” how a judge will rule on the request for the injunction in the county, despite the success of the requested injunction in Anne Arundel County.

“Different judges listen to things differently,” he said.

The whole reason for the order is to decreases cases and deaths, Elrich said. He noted that restaurants had to shut down indoor dining in the spring.

“We are at a worse place than we were in the spring and we are far more open,” he said. “We’re trying to take steps to bend this back down.”

The county isn’t looking to get all cases and deaths to zero before allowing indoor dining to open again, he said.

“We need to get to a place that’s manageable,” he said. “When your health professionals are saying you’re running the chance of overrunning your hospitals, I believe the government has a responsibility to protect the lives of its citizens, first and foremost. … I think we’re acting correctly.”

County Council President Tom Hucker told Bethesda Beat in a phone interview Friday evening that he wasn’t surprised that the county is facing a lawsuit because of the case in Anne Arundel County.

“None of us on the council suggested the restaurant restriction,” he said. “They came at the advice of our chief health officer and the emergency management director based on their review of contact tracing data that shows so many of our cases in Montgomery County follow exposures related to indoor dining.”

If a judge grants the injunction, more cases will probably be related to indoor dining, Hucker said.

“Hopefully patrons will take that into account and decide to either dine outdoor — weather-permitting — or to patronize our local restaurants through carry-out,” he said. “The main thing is that none of us are happy with the restrictions, but we all have to get through the next few months to get to the other side of this crisis.

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re still in the tunnel. … The more risks people take, the longer it will take to get out of the tunnel.”

Staff writer Dan Schere contributed to this story

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com