Norman Mayor Breea Clark promptly amended her proclamation to open salons following a judge’s order in court Monday, but the case is headed to court.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman granted an injunction on behalf of four local salon owners, Ashley Russell, Susan Babb, Dana Bradley and Kathryn Morris, who filed a lawsuit against Clark on Thursday. The phased reopen “Reboot Norman” plan did not allow salons and bars to open until May 15 while restrictions on other businesses were relaxed.

Balkman sided with the salon owners on the grounds of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which provides equal protection rights “without discrimination by the state.” The judge further stated the city presented no evidence Norman posed any more danger than other communities that allowed salons to open according to Governor Kevin Stitt’s order.

Tuesday morning the salon owners were scheduled to meet with Clark, but their attorney Sam Talley said the meeting was canceled with “short notice.”

By noon Tuesday, the city released an amended plan to comply with the injunction and opened salons.

Talley said he received an email shortly after 12 p.m. from city officials stating they intended to remove the case to federal court.

“We reached out to have a discussion with the mayor. They wanted to have that discussion and the mayor wanted to have that discussion,” Talley said. “It was canceled this morning kind of on late notice by the city because they needed to kind of continue to considered their different options. I don’t think it was canceled because of the mayor. I think she showed genuine interest and wanted to talk to our clients. We’re still hopeful that can occur.”

Talley told The Transcript his clients have no interest in making the legal matter a political one and that he respected Clark’s comments following the judge’s order.

He referred to a prepared statement on Clark’s Facebook page Monday night. It stated she delayed opening salons based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and public health experts for social distancing.

“We are still weighing our appeal options, but it appears clear that personal care providers should be allowed to reopen immediately based on the Judge’s order,” her statement reads. “Therefore, Proclamation 2020-07 will be amended today to move the reopening of personal care providers to Phase 1A, including salons, spas, massage therapy and tattoo establishments.”

City reacts

Assistant City Attorney Rick Knighton said the decision to remove the case to federal court was to preserve the city’s right to protect citizens.

“Because an appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court is not likely to have a practical impact on the current circumstances, the City decided to focus on the remaining claims,” Knighton said in an email to The Transcript. “When a case includes claims under the U.S. Constitution, federal law allows the defendant to remove the case to federal court. This should not come as a surprise to Plaintiffs’ counsel because we recently removed a case they filed in state court to federal court. See Vargas v. City of Norman, et al., State Court Case No. CJ-2019-1090. Moreover, because the right of a municipality to protect the public health, safety and welfare of its citizenry is fundamental, we intend to do all we can to preserve that right.”

Talley said his clients do not intend to drop the suit.

“My clients are still fully vested in their lawsuit. That is certainly not a challenge to the city. My clients still want resolution, but we’re still not interested in any politics. We’re still just interested in moving forward,” Talley said.

A prepared statement from Clark was released late Tuesday afternoon.

“Each decision in Norman’s COVID-19 response has been made with careful consideration of public health and safety,” her statement reads. “The original delay in reopening personal care provider businesses was based on the advice of public health experts and the CDC’s recommendations for social distancing, which are physically impossible to comply with at personal care businesses. While these businesses are now opening under strict standards of personal safety, I continue to encourage residents to wear masks and make smart, science-based decisions about protecting their health moving forward.”

Mindy Ragan

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