WILL Asks Court to Block Dane County Order on Private Gatherings

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed the lawsuit on behalf of Dane County residents who say the order will harm their families, negatively affect their mental health and hurt some businesses’ bottom lines.

The order being challenged is the most aggressive issued yet by Janel Heinrich, the health officer for Public Health Madison and Dane County. It comes as the county and the state are struggling with a COVID-19 surge that has severely strained hospitals, some of which are running out of beds and staff.

But WILL argues Henrich’s order is too broad to be issued without a vote by elected members of the Madison Common Council or the Dane County Board, and too intrusive to be allowed by the Wisconsin Constitution.

“Under Dane County’s order, people can gather with their coworkers at work, but cannot visit their close relatives in their private homes,” reads WILL’s legal brief. “Such an order is patently unreasonable and unlawful.”

While it’s unclear how quickly the court might respond to the petition, WILL’s brief asks for an immediate ruling to block the order, partly because it will prevent people from legally observing Thanksgiving with family members who don’t live in their homes.

That ban, WILL argues, unfairly punishes some people and some businesses while not affecting others.

“The Dane County Health Department cannot reasonably allow people to shop on Black Friday, while prohibiting them from seeing their loved ones, in their own homes, on Thursday,” reads the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs in the case include Jeffrey Becker, a Verona resident and father of four kids who said the order will lead to feelings of isolation in his children and harm their mental health. They also include Andrea Klein of Stoughton who said she had planned to host a small Thanksgiving with her parents, uncle and brother, all of whom live near her in Dane County.

The other plaintiff is Jason Orkowski, who owns a Fitchburg gymnastics center called Gymfinity. Orkowski said Dane County’s order will cost his business $40,000.