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California judge extends strip-club exemption from lockdown

A California judge on Wednesday extended an order exempting San Diego strip clubs from state pandemic-related restrictions, a setback for Gov. Gavin Newsom in his efforts to make his orders stick.

The scope of San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil’s preliminary injunction appeared to extend far beyond the two clubs that sued the state to potentially all of the thousands of restaurants in San Diego County the state’s second-largest county after Los Angeles.

Wohlfiel said it applies to “San Diego County businesses with restaurant services,” including the strip clubs and that it exempts them from shutdowns and “any related orders” that bar live adult entertainment and go beyond protocols “that are no greater than essential” to controlling the spread of COVID-19.

Michael Workman, a spokesman for San Diego County, said county attorneys were meeting “to decipher the ruling and determine what’s next. Stay tuned.” County supervisors last week vowed to appeal any extension of the exemption for strip clubs, which the judge initially granted last month.

Representatives of the governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The state attorney general’s office referred questions to Newsom and the California Department of Public Health.

Jason Saccuzzo, a lawyer for Pacers, referred to the order’s precise language when asked about its scope, saying it was “a difficult question to answer.”

Steve Hoffman, an attorney for Cheetahs, said he was “very pleased” with the ruling and had no comment on whether it extended to other strip clubs and restaurants.

The ruling, which takes effect immediately, comes after Newsom’s Dec. 3 stay-at-home order in response to a surge of coronavirus cases that has hammered hospitals across the state.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a “cease-and-desist” order to both clubs last week that they were violating the state’s new policy, which bars indoor and outdoor dining and prohibits social gatherings that bring together people of different households in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Becerra wrote that he was acting on behalf of Newsom, a fellow Democrat, and the state health department and that he will pursue legal action if the companies didn’t comply.

Wednesday’s ruling followed more than an hour of spirited argument about whether state authorities overreached or acted within the law to protect public health.

The clubs sued San Diego County in October after they were ordered to close.

Last month, a judge in another case denied a request to temporarily lift some restrictions on San Diego County restaurants and gyms. The California Restaurant Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday’s ruling.