Judge finds Cafe Rosetta in civil contempt of court
HOUGHTON — Cafe Rosetta of Calumet was found in civil contempt of court during a Friday morning hearing conducted in Ingham County Circuit Court.
The finding by Circuit Court Judge Wanda Stokes was in response to a motion filed by attorney Danielle Allison-Yokom on behalf of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The motion, as filed on behalf of MDARD, had two investigation reports attached to it, several affidavits and photographs, along with a request for a fine of $7,500. The fine subsequently was lowered to $2,500 and then temporarily suspended.
The court had issued a restraining order against the cafe on Dec. 30, which Allison-Yokom told the court the restaurant has ignored since it was issued, continuing to operate as a food establishment.
“Under these circumstances,” Allison-Yokom said, “we think that contempt is appropriate.”
When Stokes asked if the fine amount was a bit harsh, Allison-Yokom said the cafe continues to operate in spite of numerous orders from the state of Michigan. It has done so for longer than a month and has continued to operate without a food license, which is required by state law, she said.
Allison-Yokom said that although the requested fine may be considered harsh, MDARD is not seeking incarceration of the owners and department officials feel strongly that some action must be taken to convince the cafe that it needs to comply with the order.
Attorney David Kallman, representing Cafe Rosetta, said that the case is unique, and the time frame is compressed. He said that from all accounts he has heard, the health orders issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are going to be lifted next week.
This information regarding the orders being lifted has not been confirmed.
“Indoor dining will be resumed, if you believe what you’re hearing, when the order is lifted this coming week,” he said.
Kallman then told the judge that Cafe Rosetta’s refusal to comply is “really a survival situation for her,” then denied having had a notice for a hearing on Friday.
The Friday hearing was scheduled to occur at 1 p.m. the day before, but due to technical difficulties relating to the hearing being online, it was postponed until 10 a.m. Friday. Kallman added that his firm hasn’t had the opportunity to study the motion, such as looking into case law or studying the issues. He asked for time to study the issue.
Allison-Yokom replied that Kallman and his client were aware of the court order since it was issued and in spite of that, his client continues operating, nor did Kallman indicate that his client was making any attempt to comply with the order. Further, she argued, Cafe Rosetta does not have a license to operate.
“I have to tell you,” Stokes said, “that when it comes to court orders, in my opinion, civil disobedience is not an option. It just absolutely is not.”
Stokes said that while she understands the current environment, everyone feels put-upon due to the unprecedented situation society is now in. However, she noted that everyone is in this together.
“The laws of our country, the laws of our state,” said Stokes, “are just very important, and if we start to take on the opinion that ‘If I don’t like it I can decide to do whatever I want to do,’ then I think we are moving to a point in our judicial system, and I think, in our democracy, where our judiciary and rules don’t matter any more, and they won’t work for anyone.”
She went on to say that the law in Michigan, MCL600.1701-G, is clear: violation of a court order is punishable by contempt and that is for any time a lawful order, decree or process of the court is disobeyed, adding the law is issued seriously, and it must be taken seriously.
“It’s not required that you agree with the order. You don’t even have to agree that the order is lawful,” she said. “But the court has made it clear that the order must be complied with at the time it’s entered.”
On the objective basis that there is belief that a law is wrong, or that it even might be declared invalid on appeal, she told Kallman:
“You have (no) right — and place yourself in jeopardy — to disobey that order,” Stokes declared. “Cafe Rosetta, your client, simply cannot choose to ignore the orders of this court, ignore the administrative law judge, or the … extension orders.”
In finding Cafe Rosetta in civil contempt of court, Stokes ordered a fine of $2,500 be assessed, consistent with Michigan statutes. She then suspended the fine until 5 p.m. Wednesday, giving time for Kallman to submit a written report to the court on the reasons the fine should not be paid.