A Jefferson County district judge on Tuesday said Bandimere Speedway must comply with local and state public health laws while operating during the pandemic, citing a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the court said states had the authority to enforce mandatory smallpox vaccinations because the community’s benefit trumps personal freedom.
“The court determined that everyone had to be inoculated and many people did not want to be vaccinated and thought it was their freedom not to,” said Judge Tamara Russell via a Webex virtual hearing Tuesday morning, citing Jacobson v. Massachusetts. “The rights of each individual stops if it’s going to cause injury to others…This [COVID-19] is a horrible disease and many, many thousands have died from it already, so we’re going to follow those orders unless or until they’re overturned.”
Russell said there was a significant risk of “irreparable harm” if Bandimere Speedway officials did not comply with the public health orders, including wearing face masks, social distancing and controlling crowd sizes.
“If Bandimere were allowed not to social distance and not to wear masks, how would we know who to stay away from at the grocery store the next day?” Russell said. “Somebody who had been at Bandimere and been exposed to the virus– they could be right next to you and you don’t know. There’s no way to tell.”
Russell was originally going to rule on whether Bandimere Speedway, a Morrison race track, violated public health orders during their July 4 event and, as a result, if they would need to submit a plan to Jefferson County Public Health and seek approval before holding future events.
However, Jefferson County Public Health issued a new order Monday requiring venues to receive approval before holding events with more than one designated activity and more than 100 people inside or 175 people outside, according to a news release.
The order complicated Judge Tamara Russell’s ruling, she said, because it made the decisions she was being asked to impose on Bandimere Speedway into law and made her ruling moot, she said.
If the Bandimeres, who previously argued enforcing public health orders was not their job, did not comply with public health orders, Russell said she expected to see everyone back in court soon.
The legal battle began July 2 when the Jefferson County health department sought and received a temporary restraining order against Bandimere Speedway. The order required the race track to limit its crowd sizes to 175 people per activity during its July 4 events and to follow social distancing guidelines in light of the highly contagious new coronavirus. But the county health agency said the race track owners violated the order.
Hundreds of supporters of the race track logged on to watch two days of online video court proceedings earlier this month in which the Bandimere family testified that Jefferson County Public Health executive director Mark Johnson approved their holiday event bringing around 7,000 racing fans together and that the guidance they were told to follow was unclear.
The Bandimere family said limiting their events to 175 people would put the race track out of business.
As the Bandimere family waited to hear the ruling on its fate, they postponed their biggest races of the year — again.
The Mile High Nationals, already rescheduled to Aug. 7-9 due to the coronavirus pandemic, were postponed on Friday for a second time this year, the National Hot Rod Association announced.
The postponement is “until further notice,” although the Bandimere family, which owns the track, vowed to do whatever it could to ensure the event happens this year.
Rebecca Klymkowsky, an attorney representing Jefferson County Public Health, said she understood the hardship the Bandimere family faced but also realized the entire state, country and world are facing hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fight has become a flashpoint in political arguments over whether people should be forced to comply with public health orders or allowed to make personal choices as the pandemic surges.
Russell declined to make a ruling after hearing arguments earlier in the month, saying she needed more time to address the novelty of a case that could have lasting implications during this historic time.
Before closing Tuesday’s hearing, Russell implored Bandimere officials and Jefferson County Public Health to better work together in the future.
“One of the things dismaying to me is I feel like everybody wanted to do the right thing,” Russell said Tuesday, acknowledging steps the Bandimere family took to implement social distancing rules and remind patrons to follow them. “It seemed like everybody wanted this to work out, and it was a concerted effort….but then things got out of hand, crowd got out of control… All of these faithful fans that you have, they can decide to comply also — or not. That’s their freedom, but it will have a very negative effect.”
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