Lawsuit seeks to halt health orders
CODY — A lawsuit against Park County’s public health officer and the governor seeks to immediately stop all current state COVID-19 health order restrictions.
A declaratory injunction has been filed in Johnson County that includes all Wyoming health officers, State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist, Gov. Mark Gordon and Wyoming Department of Health Director Michael Ceballos as defendants.
The injunction asserts the state is guilty of multiple violations to the Wyoming and United States Constitutions in its application of data containing inflated and faulty COVID-19 case numbers used to initiate unjustifiable health orders.
The lawsuit was filed Feb. 26 by attorney Nick Beduhn, a former Cody resident. Beduhn, now living in Buffalo, had his license to practice law suspended in 2017 for more than two years, but is now able to practice again.
Beduhn specifically criticized the governor’s declaration of a public health emergency as undeserved and a violation of the power vested in the people, equality and due process of the law; taking health care decisions away from individuals; and accusing Wyoming’s health officers of taking arbitrary actions.
“Obviously what we have occurring here is ... legislation through the executive branch,” Beduhn said on the Cowboy State Politics podcast last week.
A Laramie attorney is also mentioned as representing the individual petitioners in the case.
The petitioners are residents and business owners from Kaycee, Laramie, Rock Springs and Cheyenne. Cody resident Boone Tidwell is not listed on the filing, but Beduhn said he helped recruit many of the petitioners, which Tidwell confirmed.
“It’s a group of concerned Wyoming people who approached a guy who knows a guy,” Tidwell said.
While serving his suspension, Beduhn said he started working for Tidwell, co-owner of Freedom Fighter Bail Bonds.
Beduhn said his clients on the case include a Cheyenne homeschool mother who was banned from her local library for not wearing a face mask but was later accommodated, an individual who was kicked out of a recreation center for not wearing a mask and right-leaning advocacy groups like Conservative Corner and Love America Laramie.
Another petitioner, the owner of a restaurant in Kaycee, had his liquor license temporarily revoked for being late on his sales tax payments and posting signs disobeying health orders last spring. A representative from the Department of Revenue acknowledged in an email that an order came from the governor’s office to revoke, in a private manner, the license because the owner was late on payments and disobeying orders.
Exhibits from the filing include a number of studies and articles arguing the legitimacy of the pandemic and testing mechanisms, but none were published or written by a currently certified medical practitioner.
Tidwell said many in the community including himself believed what was being said by government officials in the beginning of the pandemic and correspondingly “rolled up in a ball” to the orders.
“Eventually you start researching,” Tidwell said. “It’s all been wrong. Communities should address that. It’s the only way to push back.”
It hasn’t yet been announced whether the State Attorney General’s Office will represent all the county health officers or whether every county attorney will need to represent their health officer on the case. Under Wyoming state law, even though health officers are appointed by county commissioners, they are considered Wyoming Department of Health employees and are paid by that agency.
Fourth District Court Judge William Edelman in Johnson County will likely preside over the case. He has made no public statements regarding the COVID-19 virus since the pandemic began.
Since the case is an injunction, it will receive immediate attention from the court. Beduhn said he expects the state to enter a motion to dismiss in its first filing.
“Which I believe we can prevail on depending what they do and what the court does,” he said.
It has been nearly a year since Gordon declared a public health emergency in Wyoming, at a time when there was only one confirmed case in the state.
Last week, Gordon issued his 22nd continuation of the public health order, increasing gathering limits and eliminating all remaining restrictions on barber shops, nail and hair salons, tattoo parlors and other personal care services, yet continuing all face mask-related guidelines.
Beduhn said he kept expecting someone to take action against the orders, but month after month passed with nothing filed. Shortly after the New Year, he decided to become that someone.
“Fortunately, I was the attorney that was willing to step in and fight for these individual rights,” he said.
More information on the filing is available at freewyoming23.com. Donations are being accepted for printing and filing costs on the site, but Beduhn said no one is making money off the case.
“Funding the reclaiming of our rights as Wyoming citizens boils down to donation,” the website reads. “Donation of time, money and patriotism. Our team is working completely pro bono to make this happen, and every penny you can spare will help us tackle the legal debt that will result as we push onward, working towards taking back our freedoms.”