Masked bartending

Despite Home Team BBQ proprietor Chris Lanter being one of several vocal opponents to the Pitkin County Board of Health's Monday decision to implement red-level COVID restrictions, shuttering indoor dining, Lanter's restaurants (which also includes Cache Cache) are not among the Pitkin County Restaurant Alliance, which on Thursday pursued legal action against several Pitkin County entities. 

A judge on Friday denied a newly formed restaurant coalition’s legal request to halt the implementation of red-level COVID restrictions that will, effective 12:01 a.m. Sunday, put a stop to indoor dining. 

Ninth Judicial District Judge Anne Norrdin — Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin recused himself from ruling on the case, since Pitkin County is a defendant in the lawsuit, and Seldin has previously served as the county’s attorney — was hesitant to grant the request for a temporary restraining order, filed Thursday evening, without first hearing from the defendants: Pitkin County, the Pitkin County Board of Health and Interim Pitkin County Public Health Director Jordana Sabella.

“The Court understands and recognizes the difficulty and hardship created by the pandemic, which has threatened and taken lives and livelihoods,” Norrdin wrote in her ruling. “However, the Court does not find the sought ex parte intervention in public health decision-making without hearing from representatives of public health officials to be an appropriate use of its authority under the circumstances.”

Norrdin in her ruling acknowledged the court’s ability to have granted the plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief through the temporary restraining order but — even in acknowledging the economic hardship brought by public health restrictions — did not find sufficient statutory reason to do so.

“The Court may grant a temporary restraining order only if it ‘clearly appears from specific facts shown by affidavit or by the verified complaint or by testimony that immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage will result before the adverse party can be heard in opposition,’” Norrdin wrote in her decision. “Here, the Court finds that the Plaintiff’s Motion fails to establish a threat of imminent and irreparable injury.”

Attorney Chris Bryan, of Garfield & Hecht who represents the Pitkin County Restaurant Alliance, expressed his disagreement with the judge’s decision but emphasized that his client and the businesses represented therein will of course follow the ruling. 

“We are disappointed that the court has not stayed the arbitrary and capricious public health order that singles out restaurants without scientific basis,” Bryan said. “The Alliance will comply with the court’s order. Hopefully Pitkin County will revisit its decision as to restaurants and realize it’s doing more harm than good to our community.”

The specific restaurants that comprise the Alliance are not listed on the entity’s website, nor would Bryan divulge the identities of his clients, citing protecting from potential retaliatory attitudes or actions. But a few vocal opponents of the health board’s decision to implement red-level restrictions — shuttering indoor dining and enforcing an 8 p.m. curfew on outdoor dining, with takeout, curbside and delivery options permissible until 10 p.m. — did come out on Friday to make clear that they are not part of the alliance that pursued the temporary restraining order. 

Among them? Jimmy Yeager, of his namesake Jimmy’s; Chris Lanter, of Cache Cache and Home Team BBQ; and Samantha and Craig Cordts-Pearce, of CP Restaurant Group. 

“Even though we’re for the entire process and procedure. It doesn’t mean we’re not behind it 100%, we’re just not proceeding with legal action,” Lanter said. “We’ll continue to pursue other [avenues].” 

Yeager echoed Lanter’s support of the Alliance but underscored his restaurant’s collective decision not to join the legal matter. 

“We at Jimmy’s chose to not be a plaintiff in the TRO action — regardless of the fact that we are fully supportive of the judicial review — because we want to be able to continue our conversations with the county boards and staff without being encumbered by the legal restrictions of defendants talking with plaintiffs,” Yeager said Friday. “We feel that we have built up a tremendous amount of goodwill with the county, as we have been a cooperative and constructive force in moving through the last 10 months, and we look forward to being invited back to the table and having a place in the conversation about what to do next.” 

This story will be updated.

Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.