Judge Blocks Columbus From Closing Bars And Restaurants At 10 P.M.

Jul 27, 2020

Story updated Tuesday, July 28 at 4:15 p.m.

A Franklin County judge has blocked a Columbus rule requiring bars, restaurants and nightclubs to close by 10 p.m. nightly.

On Tuesday, a lawsuit challenging the ordinance was filed by a number of local bars and restaurants, including Pins Mechanical Co., 16 Bit Bar + Arcade, Oddfellows Liquor Bar and Late Night Slice.

Just hours before the curfew was set to take effect, Judge Mark Serrott issued a temporary restraining order putting the measure on hold for 14 days until there can be an evidentiary hearing. A different judge, Richard Frye, will take over as the case proceeds.

Columbus City Council approved the ordinance on Monday night, after the restrictions were proposed by the mayor and health commissioned.

“Our team, when they go out to do these compliance checks, we see a change in behavior really starting around 10 p.m. and it gets worse as the evening goes on,” said Columbus Public Health commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts in a Monday morning press conference.

But Serrott determined the city's broad-brush approach was inappropriate.

“The tools are in place, enforce the law," Serrott says. "If you go and people are standing shoulder-to-shoulder, close the bar down, punish the people that are violating the law. Those safeguards I think are already in place.”

Serrott said singling out bars and restaurants was aribitrary without evidence tying COVID-19 cases to them, as opposed to other large gatherings like bowling alleys or churches. The judge said the 10 p.m. time was simlarly arbitrary.

“Ten p.m. seems like a reasonable hour,” Roberts said. “People can still have dinner where they’re sitting down with their small group, but we’re really trying to avoid that crowding, that congregating, that tends to happen later in the evening."

Mayor Andrew Ginther says the city considered shutting down bars entirely, but that seemed “too far." Under the ordinance, delivery and drive-through sales could still continue past 10 p.m.

Still, the judge noted the matter could change if the governor decides to impose a statewide curfew at a later date. During Tuesday's COVID-19 briefing, Gov. Mike DeWine said he supported Columbus' move and planned to address bars later this week.

Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein said on Twitter that the state's home rule provision is an "obstacle" to the city implementing such a curfew, and argued that DeWine should issue a statewide order to the same ends.

As of Sunday, Columbus had 12,379 coronavirus cases, including 368 deaths. Roberts says the largest portion of cases are in people ages 20-29, who are more common to frequent bars and be asymptomatic.

Franklin County continues to lead all Ohio counties in the number of COVID-019 cases.