Rockford restaurant owners send ‘cease and desist’ letter to Winnebago County Health Department

Local News

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — A lawyer representing three Rockford restaurants has submitted a cease and desist letter to the Winnebago County Health Department, claiming intimidation tactics in the enforcement of Gov. JB Pritzker’s latest coronavirus mitigation orders.

Thomas DeVore, Managing Attorney of Silver Lake Group, Ltd., sent a letter addressed to WCHD Director Dr. Sandra Martell on Wednesday, on behalf of Fozzy’s Bar & Grill, Nora’s Place and Casey’s Pub.

Nick Fosberg, the owner of Fozzy’s Bar and Grill, says he wants proof that restaurants and bars are the reason behind the spike.

“I’m all for shutting down. If we are causing the huge spike in positivity, people are getting sick, they can say hey it’s us, I am more than happy to shut down, but they have nothing. There’s nothing to prove that it’s bars and restaurants. It’s unfair to us,” Fosberg explained.

DeVore met with more than 100 local small business owners at Giovanni’s on October 1st, at an informational meeting about the legality of the latest restrictions levied at Illinois’ Region 1, after the COVID-19 testing positivity rate shot above a set 8% threshold.

The new mitigation efforts went into effect on Saturday, October 3rd, and call for the closure of indoor dining services at bars and restaurants.

“Some clients have received a notice of non-compliance for alleged violation of rule 690.50. I have further viewed your press release wherein you personally attempt to intimidate my clients, as well as other business owners, with some indeterminable authority you purport to arbitrarily wield,” the letter reads. “I ask that you cease and desist from taking any further action unless the same is specifically authorized by law. First and foremost, I find it necessary to point out that with all the tactics of intimidation I have witnessed in the last couple of months against the good people of this state, your actions against my clients by publicly listing their business names as an alleged law breakers tops the list. Your actions are not only defamatory but border on criminal intimidation.”

DeVore referred to the health department’s weekly COVID-19 press briefing on Monday, in which Martell gave a list of 30 businesses which had been given non-compliance notices. The non-compliance notice is the first of a three step process which can result in a court order to close the business.

Dr. Martell responded Wednesday in a statement, saying, “It is extremely disappointing that a very small number of restaurants/bars in our community sought legal guidance from a representative outside of our community. At the press briefing, I reported on 30 establishments that had had complaints reported since Saturday (October 3, 2020) with the start of Executive Order #2020-56 and these complaints would be validated before a Notice of Non-Compliance would be issued. I have had no personal interaction with any of the establishments cited in this letter. The Winnebago County Health Department will continue its Enforcement Procedures as outlined and posted on the health department website. These procedures were in place before the issuance of the Executive Order #2020-56 available at https://www.wchd.org/images/COVID19/9.25.2020_EnforcementProceduresPandemicResponse.pdf

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