Bar owners file federal lawsuit challenging Gov. John Bel Edwards’ order shutting bars down

Insufficient evidence that bars are behind outbreak, attorney says

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

An attorney who served as executive counsel in former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of eleven bar owners who claim that Gov. John Bel Edwards’ July 11 emergency order limiting bars to takeout and delivery service is unlawful and overly harsh. 

The lawsuit names Edwards and Fire Marshal Butch Browning, the chief enforcement officer of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, as defendants. It was filed Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Lafayette by bars across Acadiana, including in Lafayette, Morgan City and Youngsville.

The suit disputes the state’s assertion that there is a substantial link between COVID-19 cases and on-site drinking at bars. It claims the state has traced only a small number of COVID-19 cases to bars and that data from the Louisiana Department of Health refutes the governor’s position.

Jimmy Faircloth, the former Jindal administration attorney who represents the bar owners, said Thursday that at the time Edwards issued the order, there were approximately 100,000 known COVID-19 cases statewide. According to the LDH, Faircloth said, only 454 cases (about 0.5 percent) were traced to bars, and of those about 100 came from bars in Tigerland, a neighborhood near LSU’s campus.

“So, that takes the number to approximately one-third of 1 percent for all bars outside of Tigerland,” Faircloth said by phone. He said the governor could have just shut down the bars in Tigerland. “There would be more rationale for that,” he said, because it’s a “hotspot.”

Edwards’ bar restrictions took effect on July 14.  The governor had previously allowed bars to reopen and allowed restaurants and other businesses to partially reopen as long as they practiced social distancing and face-mask guidelines. However, virus hospitalizations surged, prompting the governor’s 14-day order, which also mandates face coverings and limits gatherings to no more than 50 people. 

As the order was about to expire, the coronavirus situation had not improved, prompting Edwards to extend the restrictions until Aug. 7.

As of Wednesday, Louisiana had more than 112,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,769 deaths.

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Wesley Muller
Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.