By George Miller & Debra Tash
Calvary Chapel’s Co-Counsel Nada Higuera of Tyler Burch informed us that Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin for Ventura County today sued Calvary Chapel, Pastor Rob McCoy and “(John) Does 1 through 1000” who attended services forbidden by California Governor Gavin Newsom and a fourth level bureaucrat Dr. Robert Levin, who is the County Health Officer. The County Supervisors weren’t named as plaintiffs.
An ex parte hearing on plaintiffs’ request for a TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) has been scheduled in Department 20 of the Ventura County Superior Court for this Friday, August 7, 2020 at 8:30 a.m. The court is located at 800 South Victoria Avenue, Ventura, California 93009. We’ve learned that it will be a teleconfrence- don’t know if public can connect.
The complaint, Higuera said, is based upon the Emergency Services Act. Similar situations have been upheld for government entities in other jurisdictions, she told us. So it will probably be necessary to either appeal it to a higher court or have another argument, which would probably be First Amendment-based (free exercise of religion) and a challenge to the state of emergency itself.
The document is a VERIFIED COMPLAINT FOR TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER, PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION AND PERMANENT INJUNCTION.
The inclusion of “John Does” is more than a merely formality. The complaint states: “Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and thereon allege, that 13 each of the Doe defendants is responsible in some manner for the nuisance and violation of the State and County health orders herein alleged.”
8-5-20 Statement by Calvary Godspeak’s Counsel:
It is shameful that the County of Ventura is using taxpayer dollars to fund a lawsuit against a church and attendees for exercising the fundamental right to worship. The three board members took an oath to uphold the constitution. This lawsuit flies in the face of that oath and at a massive expense to taxpayers.
We will defend Rob McCoy and the church pro bono against this ridiculous lawsuit, even if we have to take it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Nada N. Higuera, Esq.
The action occurred less than 24 hours after the Board of Supervisors, by a 3-2 vote (Long and Huber dissenting) to authorize Counsel discretion to do so. This suggests that it might have been in the works for a while (Dr. Levin disagreed). Related article linked directly below:
County Votes in Closed Session to Litigate Against Godspeak Church in Newbury Park to Ban Church Services
By George Miller and Debra Tash In a closed meeting today, with no advance notice to the potential defendants, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted to seek restraint against Calvary Godspeak Newbury Park holding in-person services in violation of the state and county orders. Pastor Rob McCoy has had the church open since Pentecost […]
On July 31, County Public Health Director Rigoberto Vargas sent Pastor McCoy a nicely worded letter, urging him to move services outdoor or “virtual,” listing the potential health consequences to congregants and community. It mentioned that McCoy had repeatedly refused to comply, but did not threaten any specific consequences. This followed up on a similar phone conversation between the two a week before, per the letter, and has been confirmed by McCoy.
Godspeak’s counsel replied to Vargas communications with this letter: TylerVargasLetter072020. It provides sime insight into how they would pursue the defense, which might include a challenge to disparate enforcement and even the validity of the state of Emergency Declaration.
Calvary Godspeak held multiple in-church services on July 24 and 31 that were very well-attended.
The August 4 meeting resulted in a vote by the supervisors authorizing counsel to act and the litigation was served and filed today, August 5.
McCoy did another video bulletin the evening of August 5th. He said only that they were served the papers but he did not yet know the gist of the suit. He stated his reasons once again for persisting with the in-church services.
The complaint’s legal basis had at its heart some key verbiage (excerpts):
“16. Pursuant to Government Code section 8634, during a local emergency, the County Health Officer may promulgate orders as necessary to provide for the protection of life and property.
17. Pursuant to Health and Safety Code section 101040, subdivision (a), the County Health Officer “may take any preventive measure that may be necessary to protect* and preserve the public health from any public health hazard during any ‘state of war emergency,’ ‘state of emergency,’ or ‘local emergency,‘ as defined by Section 8558 of the Government Code, within his or her jurisdiction.” Furthermore, pursuant to Health and Safety Code section 120175, the County Health Officer, “knowing or having reason to believe that any case of the diseases made reportable by regulation of [CDPH], or any other contagious, infectious or communicable disease exists, or has recently existed, within the territory under his or her jurisdiction, shall take measures as may be necessary to prevent the spread of the disease or occurrence of additional cases.”
*These words appear to be inspired by CA AB262, which has been criticized for its very wide scope and possible unconstitutionality. Example of verbiage therein: “… the local health officer may issue orders to other governmental entities within the local health officer’s jurisdiction to take any action the local health officer deems necessary to control the spread of the communicable disease.”
The complaint then listed a host of declarations of emergency and various executive orders which kept changing restrictions of through July. These were then cited as the the law, with situational specifics of violations added, which included holding indoor services, mostly without masks and social distancing. This was confirmed by reporters from multiple news publications, including Citizens Journal. We do not know if law enforcement officers witnessed the proceedings and gathered first-hand evidence, but church videos would tend to confirm it.
Here is the cover letter that came with the litigation documents:
|FW: County of Ventura, et al. v. Godspeak Calvary Church, et al. -August 7, 2020 hearing on ex parte application for TRO
15Z1885-Verified Complaint for TRO.PDF (4.8 MB)15Z1890-Summons.PDF (284 KB)Civil Case Cover Sheet.pdf (2.5 MB)– Download all
|Subject: County of Ventura, et al. v. Godspeak Calvary Church, et al. – August 7, 2020 hearing on ex parte application for TRO
Thank you for taking my call this afternoon. Attached please find a summons and complaint filed today by the County of Ventura and its Public Health Officer Dr. Levin (“plaintiffs”) against your clients Godspeak Calvary Chapel and Rob McCoy. An ex parte hearing on plaintiffs’ request for a TRO has been scheduled in Department 20 of the Ventura County Superior Court for this Friday, August 7, 2020 at 8:30 a.m. The court is located at 800 South Victoria Avenue, Ventura, California 93009. Please let me know if I should also contact your clients directly to provide notice of the hearing or if you intend to do so.
Also, thank you for agreeing to accept service on behalf of your clients. Once the TRO papers are filed tomorrow, I will serve you with a copy by email.
Finally, you requested an advanced copy of the Ventura County local public health order from July 14, 2020. You will find a copy of such order attached to the complaint. Please do not hesitate to let me know if you have any other questions at this time.
Assistant County Counsel, County of Ventura
800 South Victoria Ave, L/C #1830
Ventura, CA 93003
t: (805) 654-2773
8-5-20 Interview With Ventura County Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin
Dr. Levin steered clear of the actual litigation issues/content but was very willing to answer questions within his realm of expertise and scope of permitted disclosure. He said he was speaking as an “outside person” and not as Health Officer and referred us to VC Counsel Leroy Smith for legalities. We have an interview request in to Smith and will let you know if and when we hear from him.
Levin was asked to compare activities/venues like BLM protests, businesses, liquor stores, pot shops, abortion mills to church services. He replied that protests were outdoors. We noted that some protests were also indoors, but not so much in Ventura County. He agreed, but couldn’t explain why lack of masks and social distancing got a pass. “There are some inconsistencies”, he admitted. “Human activity is very complex”. We both agreed that it is difficult to achieve total internal consistency in rules and enforcement. But then some of the other things we cited were indoors. He didn’t address our point of what is essential, something officials have repeatedly been reluctant to tackle.
Some churches/pastors have declared not only that church is essential, but that the law of God trumps the law of man. They say that the First Amendment even yields to that:
Over the years, Congress and courts have chipped away at that somewhat. Now, the question is: do the emergency orders and alleged health risk trump it?
We asked if there were documented links to COVID-19 infections and churches in the county. He said there were 8-9 cases of people who said they had attended church services. We asked if there was any cause and effect or clusters and he replied, no. We asked if it was possible these were related to a church and he said, yes. There were no linkages to Calvary Chapel Godspeak. But he said there were links nationally elsewhere linked to churches. Keep in mind that clusters have appeared in multiple businesses and places like labor camps or dense housing situations.
We discussed what conditions would be considered hazardous for infection. He said the CDC standard is close contact for 15+ minutes and that the indoor Godspeak services as conducted fit into that category. He said any direct contact is also high risk. We didn’t discuss exactly what that is, but government bulletins have referred to any direct contact with mucous membranes, eyes, or mouth, including touching an infected surface, then touching those.
We asked him how he would configure an indoor service if he had to. He replied that it should incorporate social distancing, face covering and sanitizing. On the subject of singing, he said OK outdoors, not indoors. He even frowned on “choral practice.” Godspeak typically does singing at the start and end of services.
We then asked Dr. Levin why the initial two week hard lockdown didn’t break the back of the pandemic. He replied because it wasn’t a total lockdown. We said what was it, half the people locked down? He said no, it was considerably more than that initially and that the roads seemed empty back then. It’s much less now. We agreed that even a small number of contacts with infected people could start to boost the numbers up again. But in fact, the numbers of deaths plunged and positive reported cases dropped quite a bit. While deaths are still dropping, cases have started to rise somewhat.
So here we are, five+ months into various degrees of lockdown, now increased again. We have “bent the curve,” which was the goal to help avoid overloading the hospitals while treatments and immunizations are made available, but authorities are worried about an unfavorable inflection point and the trend. How much of this is due to a much higher testing rate is hard to say, but it has got to be a factor. We did not discuss that with him. But he did confirm the trend in hospitalizations is up.
Finally, we asked about therapies. His only initial answer was that federal medical authorities picked what appeared to be the most promising vaccine and have ultra fast-tracked it into “stage 3 clinical trials.” He likened it to picking a race horse they thought would take first place and in effect, betting on it. He said they are already manufacturing the vaccine in vast quantities in parallel with the testing, in anticipation of success. If the tests fail, the vaccine must be discarded, but other efforts are also underway in case that occurs. He didn’t address that some experts in the field are not confident that an effective vaccine will be available anytime soon.
Levin seemed more optimistic about a “plasma” treatment for immunization, using antibodies from recovered COVID-19 cases.
He believed that both that and a vaccine would not produce permanent immunity, but would require additional doses, “like the annual flu vaccine.” We asked him if this was required because immunity doesn’t last or because different strains emerge. “Both”, he replied. We asked him how herd immunity will be developed and he said all of those.
We asked him about treatments for cases. Some medical professionals have insisted that there are not only treatments to mitigate or stop the virus, but even “prophylactics” or preventive measures. He seemed less enthusiastic about this approach, stating that the only promising treatment so far is Remdesivir, now also undergoing trials. There are in fact over 200 treatments undergoing some kind of evaluation. The one with the most publicity is hydroxychloroquine with zinc and an antibiotic, which is controversial, due to conflicting studies. Levin said he had heard more negative than positive news on this. Some doctors swear by it but it hasn’t passed through the full range of medically accepted testing to prove it out. You can read both positive and negative reports about it even on this web site, most referencing reports by medical professionals.
Pastor McCoy Has a Very Different Take on It
During his video bulletin tonight and previously, McCoy has made the following major points:
He said that he had been served with the complaint and was having his attorneys evaluate it before further commenting on the litigation, which his counsel Tyler Bursch said they would fight all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. He confirmed that the county had previously asked him orally and in writing to halt the indoor services without masks and social distancing.
He lamented that the Board of Supervisors had voted 3-2 to move against them, with his own area Supervisor Linda Parks doing that, along with lame ducks Steve Bennett and John Zaragoza. He thanked the two brave Supervisors who opposed it – Kelly Long and Steve Huber. He was not happy that county funds were being used to go after the church.
He said they have looked at the data and are mindful of the congregants. He added that if they move against us, “it is government without our consent which is in itself a violation of the law… we don’t consent… this is unprecedented… we’re not budging… If you think this is the way they are supposed to govern, then roll over – or remove them in November.” He added that it is time stand up to this.
McCoy said he “never wanted to go public with this, just to be left alone.” He remarked on the John Lewis funeral, which did not seem to draw the same opposition, seeming to imply a different standard.
8-5-20 County Press Conference
Supervisor Linda Parks, masked up and standing in front of Food Share supplies, thanked everyone for not going to gatherings. She then went on to state that she couldn’t wait until “we open up.” However, Parks stressed once more not to go to gatherings. Dr. Robert Levin was up next. He briefly addressed the problem with the state electronic submission system which he estimated started around July 25th. He claimed it led to under-reporting COVID-19 positive numbers. There are only 83 patients currently in the hospitals with 79 deaths and 27 in ICU’s. Dr. Levin postulated that we can see an increase in positive cases. On June 1st those numbers were running around 20 patients in the hospital. We are now at 85 patients. Carrying this out that we will probably have a baseline of 101 patients. If that is the case, there will be an overrun of our hospitals in the next few months. Dr. Levin is relying on modeling to speculate on the increasing numbers. He also pounded on gatherings being the problem, bar-b-ques and holiday parties. Levin suggested we all Skype. He never mentioned the protests, only gatherings in our own self interest. The county is running a positive case rate of 170 to 200 a day and will have to get to 100 a day to be off the Governor’s watch list. County CEO Mike Powers concluded the press conference. He emphasized, wearing masks, social distance and not gathering. The hospital numbers have stabilized.
By George Miller County Medical Director threatens action on Calvary Chapel Godspeak’s refusal to shut down as ordered. Church responds defiantly. Calvary Chapel Godspeak (CCTO- Newbury Park) Senior Pastor Rob McCoy does not shy away from controversy in the name of what he believes right. With no regrets, he watched congregants peel away […]
By George Miller Ventura, 5-6-20- I talked with Dr. Robert Levin, Ventura County Health Officer, Public Health, of the County Health Care Agency, who quickly agreed with my statement that dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic situation is likely the biggest challenge of his career. He has the difficult job, among others, of managing Ventura County’s […]
Debra Tash is Editor-in-Chief of Citizensjournal.us, past president for Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, business executive and award-winning author, residing in Somis.
George Miller is Publisher/Co-Founder of CitizensJournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard.