Gov. Larry Hogan’s office pushed back on claims made in a lawsuit filed by Del. Dan Cox this weekend, a suit which claims Cox’s First Amendment rights were violated and some of Hogan’s executive orders are not allowed under state law.
The lawsuit, which lists Cox (R-Frederick and Carroll), Delegates Neil Parrott (R-Washington) and Warren Miller (R-Carroll and Howard), several members of the religious community statewide, Adventure Park USA in Monrovia, and Reopen Maryland as plaintiffs — among others — claims Cox could have been arrested if he attended a rally and gave a speech in protest of the governor’s executive orders at the Francis Scott Key Mall in Frederick on Saturday.
The suit also lists state Health Department officials Robert Neall and Fran Phillips, along with Maryland State Police Superintendent Woodrow Jones as defendants. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Maryland in Baltimore on Saturday.
According to the lawsuit, Cox was informed by the Maryland State Police that he would be in violation of the governor’s order prohibiting large gatherings, and subject to up to a year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine if he attended and gave a speech at Saturday’s rally. That was confirmed by Hogan’s Senior Adviser Andrew Cassilly and Chief Legal Counsel Michael Pedone, the lawsuit states.
Greg Shipley, a spokesman for Maryland State Police, deferred comment to Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan. Ricci disputed the lawsuit’s claims in a statement Monday.
“We fully respect Delegate Cox’s right to protest and express his feelings — and even copy and paste lawsuits from other states — but that doesn’t entitle him to make false and baseless claims,” Ricci wrote. “The overwhelming majority of Marylanders agree with the steps that the governor has taken to save lives, and we are all in this together.”
In an email Monday, Cox said the claims were not baseless and argued Hogan’s executive orders were overreaching of the state and federal constitutions.
“22,000 members of Reopen Maryland and the other 17 plaintiffs — including Adventure Park USA and Antietam Battlefield KOA each of which will suffer permanent irreparable harm and face the possibility of going out of business because of the Governor’s Orders if relief is not urgently provided,” Cox wrote as he headed into a court hearing for the case Monday.
The lawsuit states that Adventure Park was losing $700,000 in revenue this spring and was at risk of declaring bankruptcy if officials don’t open the amusement park at some point this month.
Parrott said in a phone interview Monday he believed Hogan had the “best intentions” for the state’s residents by issuing the executive orders, but added those orders could set a dangerous precedent.
He said he’s heard from many constituents who are struggling to pay their bills and feed themselves. Cox’s lawsuit means the judiciary branch will rule whether Hogan has been overreaching, and what role the state’s legislative branch has regarding enforcement and drafting of executive orders, Parrott said.
“All this power shouldn’t be on one person’s hands … if we accept this as normal, then it would be hard to overturn that because the precedent had been set already,” Parrott said. “My goal is to make sure that our freedoms are preserved, and to make sure we’re not setting precedent for future governors, who may not do it with the thought of the whole good of the state in mind.”
Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), however, defended Hogan in a Facebook post Monday. Franchot argued that Hogan’s decision to protect human lives during the pandemic supercedes all other policy decisions.
He added he understood the pandemic’s impact on businesses and revenue statewide, but opening the state too early would lead to more issues.
“I will also say that frivolous publicity stunts like this lawsuit against Governor Hogan do absolutely nothing to help the situation,” Franchot wrote. “Contrary to what some might believe, the lawmakers who initiated this litigation are not acting out of sincere concern for the working people of our state.
“Rather, they are political opportunists who are trying to cash in on the anxieties of struggling Marylanders for their five minutes of fame,” he added. “And, obviously, are perfectly happy to burn taxpayer money in the process. Pleased to see that Governor Hogan seems inclined to treat them, and their cut-and-pasted lawsuit, with the dignity they deserve.”
Cox said in a text Monday night that U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake ordered the governor’s office to respond to the lawsuit by Friday.