While the case against Galen Wood was dropped on Friday, Rep. Anthony Sabatini and the rest of Wood’s legal team are moving forward with a civil lawsuit challenging the basis of the emergency orders.
LAKE COUNTY -- State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, is taking a break from his legislative and National Guard service duties to put his lawyer hat on for a while.
Sabatini is one of the attorneys on a legal team that represented Galen Trent Wood – the first Florida business owner arrested last month for allegedly violating statewide Safer at Home orders put in place to lessen the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Wood, the owner of Kitchen Table Games in Pinellas Park, was arrested for keeping what was considered a non-essential business open in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
And while the case against Wood was dropped on Friday, Sabatini and the rest of Wood’s legal team are moving forward with a civil lawsuit challenging the basis of the emergency orders.
“There’s no legal basis for the orders,” Sabatini said. “They’re based on thin air. They violate the constitution and they violate state statutes. People are following them because they’re being told they (officials) have the power to create them.”
Sabatini said any claim that Wood’s business – or any other business – is non-essential has no precedent in Florida law. He argues that stay-at-home orders don’t either.
“In addition to the emergency order of the State of Florida, Pinellas County’s order – like most Florida counties – is arbitrary and capricious, bears no relationship to increased public safety, and in no way reduces the spread of Coronavirus. Instead, the order is a dangerous power-grab with no basis in Florida law,” Sabatini wrote on Facebook.
Sabatini has been vocal on social media blasting the stay-at-home orders.
“SWEDEN CLOSED NOTHING,” he tweeted this week with a link to an article about Sweden’s pandemic response. “And now even the WHO is saying Sweden has the BEST government response! So why is Florida continuing its destructive, ineffective and draconian lockdown?!”
“SHAME on the politicians who shut down the economy and ruined people’s lives,” he wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday. “Every day I get calls from those who have no income and the government assistance they MAY receive is not nearly enough to survive in a closed economy. This was completely unnecessary and tragic—one of the great failures of political leaders in American history.”
And on Wednesday, after Gov. Ron DeSantis outlined his plan to start reopening the state, Sabatini wrote:
“Watching the Governor’s presentation, it’s clear the right step is to OPEN EVERYTHING IMMEDIATELY. But instead the lockdowns and partial lockdowns in FL are being extended—resulting in an indefinite period of the economy in the gutter, Floridian’s businesses and lives damaged, and civil liberties infringed...”
As for the Wood case, Sabatini said he hopes it sets a precedent.
“Because the state laws should have never been enacted,” said Sabatini, a 2017 graduate of the University of Florida’s Law School. “I think it’s bad policy and also illegal.”
The case fell into Sabatini’s lap this week. St. Petersburg-based attorney Gordon Oldham, a Leesburg High School graduate and fellow Gator, called to talk with him about the case due to his legislative experience.
When he was asked to join the team, Sabatini said he gladly accepted and is eager for the case to be heard in court. And after talking to Wood, Sabatini said he was motivated further to champion the case.
“I will fight on a personal level for any cause I feel is unjust in the system and this case fits in with that,” Sabatini said. “Obviously, he (Wood) was very shaken because at the time of his arrest, he was doing curbside pick-up as many businesses were doing. It’s absurd they targeted him because they felt as a small business, they could do it easily but that’s the problem; the basis of the arrest depended on irrational laws. They’re purely arbitrary and as a result, arbitrary decisions between who is considered essential or non-essential and who gets arrested are being made.”
After his arrest and posting bail, Wood organized a gofundme account titled, “Fight tyranny in Florida.”
Since April 18, when the account was open, donations totaled $1,315 of the $20,000 goal.
An explanation of the situation on gofundme, Wood claims that in light of the pandemic, he was only open for curbside pick-up since it is safer than delivery because less people are involved in the exchange.
News reports, however, say Pinellas County authorities were called to the business several times in early April due to tips that the store was open and social distancing guidelines were not being followed.
Still, Wood’s gofundme summary reads: “We are building a robust team willing to work at below normal rates because of the outlandish nature of this arrest!”
“If this guy can be arrested, then we can all be arrested because the law is giving unlimited authority to prosecute innocent people,” Sabatini said.
On his Facebook page on Friday, he announced the win, saying that he was proud to help Wood “in his fight against unlawful government abuse.”
“Now we will be moving forward with a civil lawsuit to challenge the ILLEGAL basis for the State and Local emergency orders and other abusive actions taken by government,” Sabatini wrote. “I encourage others to also challenge every emergency order in court. #liberty.”