Updated with AG comments, 10:31 a.m., 2/9/21
Six barbers cited for disorderly conduct during a May protest at the state Capitol have had their criminal charges dismissed.
David Kallman, an attorney for the Kallman Legal Group and leading legal voice defending dissenters of health orders and executive orders related to coronavirus containment, said the charges were dismissed during an early Monday morning court hearing by 54-A District Court Judge Kristen Simmons.
Charges against Danielle Ashcraft, Suzanne Dodoro, Londa Gatt, Angela Rigas, Brenda Root and Rachel Sheeran were dismissed, in part, because the orders which allowed them grew from the emergency powers law the Michigan Supreme Court found unconstitutional in October. Kallman argued the law also allowed license holders to participate in protests.
“We believe the protest fell into the definition of a special event,” said Kallman. “The law has an exception to where a licensed barber or cosmetologist can conduct business and that exception is for special events. Usually, it’s a fundraiser event.”
The six were part of “Operation Haircut,” a protest held on the Capitol lawn May 20 and organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition. The protest targeted an executive order issued by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer which ordered non-essential businesses to shutter in order to contain and delay coronavirus spread.
The Michigan Advance reported at the time the organization that supported the protest was largely funded by out-of-state conservative groups.
Last week, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office announced it was dismissing all cases related to the Whitmer’s COVID emergency orders after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in October the law used to issue them was unconstitutional. Current epidemic health orders have been issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The protest came in the wake of Owosso barber Karl Manke’s resistance to the orders. He was cited, and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s team brought state action against him for violating his license requirements and the orders.
Kallman has a long history of legal activism from a conservative, often Christian, perspective. He’s litigated several cases related to sexual orientation and gender identity protections, sued the Williamston School District for adopting a nondiscrimination policy related to transgender students, was the chief litigator in a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that allowed homeschooling and more.
As some businesses have refused to follow coronavirus orders, Kallman has become a leading lawyer defending them. He said 96% of his business in the last year has been handling administrative and legal proceedings related to coronavirus restrictions. He successfully represented Manke, and is currently suing Whitmer on behalf of four bowling alleys alleging her restrictions resulted in an illegal take over of their businesses.
The May 20 protest, held between noon and 3 p.m., featured free haircuts on the lawn. Some Republican lawmakers attended, including state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and Sen. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte)
Michigan State Police troopers were on hand. Each person cited with a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge of operating an illegal business was provided two warnings to follow the order or face sanctions. Conviction for the disorderly conduct charge could result in a fine of up to $500. Seven people, including the six whose cases were dismissed Monday, were cited.
Kallman said he was baffled by the charge because he found it had usually been used against businesses that are illegal in the first place, such as gambling or prostitution operations.
The licensed barbers aren’t quite out of hot water. The Licensing and Regulatory Affairs agency is still pursuing action against the barbers’ licenses. Kallman said negotiations with the Attorney General’s office continue on those administrative actions.
“The Department chose not to proceed with the criminal cases; however, we continue to represent LARA in the administrative licensing actions involving these individuals,” said Ryan Jarvi, spokesperson for Attorney General Dana Nessel.