Four Palm Beach County residents have signed onto a lawsuit to block the county mandate requiring masks in public.
The 37-page complaint, filed Tuesday, claims Palm Beach County “recklessly required countless American citizens and Florida residents ... to submit to dangerous medical treatments with well-known risks and potential for serious injuries and death, including being forced to wear harmful medical devices like masks.”
The suit filed on behalf of Josie Machovec, Carl Holme, Rachel Eade and Robert Spreitzer — at least two of whom were among the dozens who expressed outrage over the proposal when commissioners approved it June 23 — claims the mandate “interferes with (their) personal liberty and constitutional rights” such as freedom of speech, right to privacy, due process and the “constitutionally protected right to enjoy and defend life and liberty.”
When reached by phone Wednesday, Machovec referred a reporter to attorney Louis Leo IV, whose Coconut Creek law firm is called the Florida Civil Rights Coalition. He and three other attorneys on the suit sent Palm Beach County commissioners a cease and desist notice before the vote.
Leo is no stranger to controversial court actions. He sued Florida Atlantic University in 2016 over the firing of James Tracy, the professor who gained notoriety after he made claims that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax. A federal jury upheld the firing in 2017.
After opponents, many from the coalition spoke at the meeting against the mandate, video of their comments went national on cable news and late night talk shows. Despite the opposition, county commissioners approved the mask mandate 7-0. It went into effect Thursday.
The lawsuit points out that most federal and state authorities do not mandate but rather simply recommend masks be worn, a stance the county held for two months.
For example, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February said it did not recommend wearing masks to prevent the coronavirus, but has since updated its recommendation after learning of the importance of stopping the spread of respiratory droplets.
“Palm Beach County has no authority, actual or apparent ... to force medical treatments upon any individual in Palm Beach County, including but not limited to forcing people to wear medical devices such as facial coverings,” the lawsuit states, arguing that the only person who can order facial coverings is the state surgeon general. The state health department issued a public health advisory on June 20 that only recommended masks be worn and that gatherings be limited to 50 people.
Palm Beach County Attorney Denise Nieman has said that the county, in general, has the responsibility and authority to issue appropriate measures to protect the health and safety of residents, especially during an emergency. Nieman said the county would not comment on the lawsuit.
State Attorney Dave Aronberg reiterated the county’s power to act in the interests of public safety during a Friday news conference.
“Obviously, those individuals who claim they know the First Amendment have obviously never read the First Amendment because it is within the authority of the County Commission to put forward a mask ordinance,” Aronberg said.
The lawsuit also criticizes the mandate for being vague, “forcing millions of Palm Beach County residents and visitors ... to guess at the meanings and be subjected to punishment and criminal consequence.”
“The absurdity of the mask mandate is revealed by overwhelming scientific evidence showing masks can’t stop the spread of COVID-19,” the lawsuit states.
On June 23, Machovec told commissioners she would consider wearing a mask only if the county provided studies that show “why it is safe for us to not only wear a mask, but that it is effective.”
“We’re three months into this. The people who are not wearing masks have medical conditions that prohibit them from wearing them, or they have a deep-seated conviction and believe in their constitutionally protected rights and they will not wear them. They’re willing to risk jail time. They’re willing to risk the citation,” Machovec said.
Eade, who also spoke at the June 23 meeting, told commissioners that the board does “not have the authority to govern my body.”
“You have never explained the risk (of wearing a mask). We’ve been harassed, defamed, humiliated, discriminated, called ‘anti-maskers’, ‘maskless bandits,’ ‘Grandma-killers.’ Does that sound like public health to you?” she said.
Machovec added that she faced discrimination because she has a medical exemption keeping her from wearing a mask.
“A mask mandate is the antithesis of (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness),” she said. “Life is snuffed with the deprivation of oxygen. Liberty is snuffed when personal freedom of choice is removed and our pursuit of happiness is snuffed when we have to fight you constantly not to remove our freedoms.”
A GoFundMe page to support the legal costs has raised more than $7,700 in 10 days.Palm Beach County is the latest government in Florida to be sued over a mask mandate, joining Hillsborough, Orange, Miami-Dade, Leon and Seminole counties.