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Attorney general needs more to cut down St. Louis County mask order

The attorney general’s office heads back to court Feb. 8 to halt the St. Louis County Council’s face covering order. The judge who struck down the AGO’s temporary restraining order said that for the office to win, it needs more than what it filed in its latest motion.

St. Louis County Circuit Judge Richard M. Stewart said in his Jan. 19 order that the AGO’s argument fails to fulfill the Missouri statute that governs temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions. It requires the filer to first make clear the likelihood of the order’s success on merits.

Because Gov. Michael Parson did not renew a COVID-19 emergency order in 2022, Stewart said that the AGO’s reference to an order related to a declared emergency was moot. Stewart also wrote that the Missouri statute does not indicate that the St. Louis County Council can’t issue a similar order to the one it terminated on July 27, 2021.

“Plaintiff equates a ‘terminated’ order with one ‘prohibited…under this section,’” Stewart wrote. “The two are not the same, and equating an order terminated by a vote of the County Council with an unlawful order, would deviate from the plain language used by the Missouri State Legislature.”

The same statute also requires the filer in their motion to clarify how an order causes irreparable harm and impacts the balance of harm and the public interest. The AGO had said that citizens in the county should not be subject to an unlawful order, but Stewart said that the AGO needs more than that to meet the final three conditions of the statute.

“These contentions are premised on this Court finding Plaintiff is likely to succeed with its claim that the order is unlawful, which the Court does not find at this time,” Stewart said. “In addition, Plaintiff has not denied the current serious nature of the COVID-19 epidemic.”

The county agreed to file an expedited pleading by Jan. 28.

He also noted that though the AGO’s motion claimed otherwise, the City Council’s order does not have an enforcement mechanism.

In a Jan. 19 statement, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said that he did not consider the judge’s decision a failure. 

“Today, the Court issued a purely technical decision,” he said. The case is State of Missouri ex rel. Schmitt v. St. Louis County, 22SL-CC00250.