Judge calls Michigan restaurant owner 'selfish' for defying COVID-19 orders

Posted at 9:27 AM, Mar 20, 2021

DETROIT (AP) — A western Michigan restaurant owner was arrested before dawn Friday and hauled to jail, a dramatic turn in a monthslong dispute over her persistent refusal to comply with orders and restrictions tied to the coronavirus.

Marlena Pavlos-Hackney, 55, will remain in jail until she pays $7,500 and authorities confirm that Marlena’s Bistro and Pizzeria in Holland, Michigan, is closed, a judge said.

“She has put the community at risk. We are in the middle of a pandemic,” Ingham County Judge Rosemarie Aquilina said.

State investigators said Pavlos-Hackney had allowed indoor dining when it was banned, wasn’t enforcing mask rules and was ignoring capacity limits. Her food license was suspended Jan. 20, but the business remained open.

A different judge on March 4 declared Pavlos-Hackney in contempt of court and ordered an arrest unless the restaurant was closed.

“You have selfishly not followed the orders. ... This is the wrong way to get publicity,” Aquilina said. “It’s the wrong way to be a good citizen.”

Pavlos-Hackney’s attorney, Robert Baker, said she would immediately pay $7,500 and close the restaurant.

State police arrested her in Park Township, near Holland, and drove 90 miles (145 kilometers) to the Ingham County jail. Pavlos-Hackney seemed to shrug off the possibility of an arrest as she poured coffee for customers Thursday.

“We don’t want this country to be a communist regime that’s going to dictate what we can do and what we cannot do,” the native of Poland told WOOD-TV on Thursday.

Breakfast still was served by restaurant staff Friday as news of the arrest spread.

“She reminds me of my dad, never wanting government handouts,” said Republican state Rep. Mary Whiteford, whose district includes the restaurant. “Every one of her customers has chosen to eat in her restaurant. They refuse to let government dictate their lives.”

To reduce the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at times has put strict limits on restaurants and bars. In-person dining, with limited capacities, was reinstated Feb. 1 after a 10-week halt. There were other restrictions earlier in the pandemic.

State regulators have suspended licenses at businesses that violate the rules.

Attorney General Dana Nessel defended the arrest on Twitter, saying Pavlos-Hackney was putting the public at risk.

“Can’t understand how or why this is controversial,” Nessel, a Democrat, said.

The court hearing got off to a rocky start: A man who acknowledged he’s not a licensed lawyer was arrested for contempt after Aquilina said it was improper for him to file a document on Pavlos-Hackney’s behalf.

The judge then asked her if she would pledge to tell the truth. Pavlos-Hackney didn’t reply.

“I know you want to control this room but this isn’t Burger King,” Aquilina said. “When the sign changes to Burger King you can have it your way. Right now this is my courtroom, and you will answer my questions.”

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