Updated: Jul 31, 2020
By Joe Johnson
A Superior Court judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order on enforcement of a new Athens-Clarke County emergency ordinance that would require bars and restaurants stop selling alcohol at 10 p.m. rather than 2 a.m.
The ordinance was approved Thursday by county commissioners in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which can cause the potentially fatal COVID-19 disease.
Almost immediately after the vote, attorneys representing five downtown bars e-filed a lawsuit to Clarke County Superior Court that asked a judge for a declaratory judgment that the mayor and commissioners exceeded their authority by issuing the early last-call ordinance that also requires masks or face coverings to be worn while inside commercial establishments.
Western Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Eric Norris granted the TRO, pending further hearings on Tuesday.
"As a result of our victory in court today over 170 Athens bars and restaurants can continue to serve their customers in accordance with the state rules for COVID-19,” said Morris “Mo” Wiltshire, one the attorneys who filed the lawsuit.
“This is a major win for Athens business owners and their employees, who get to keep their jobs,” he said.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the owners of On the Rocks, Moonshine Bar, Cloud Bar, Buddha Bar, and Centro Athens claims that the ordinances are unconstitutional and unenforceable because “they are more restrictive than Governor Brian Kemp’s public health emergency orders that recommend, but do not require, the use of masks and allow bars to remain open and operate under subject to certain mandatory criteria.”