San Jose

Judge Orders San Jose's Calvary Chapel to Pay $1.2 Million in COVID Fines

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A Superior Court judge has ordered Calvary Chapel San Jose to pay $1.2 million in fines for violating Santa Clara County’s public health order.

The judge ruled in favor of Santa Clara County and rejected arguments presented by Calvary Chapel in 2020. They alleged county orders prevented it from exercising its religious freedom.

“What this case is really about is holding the most egregious entity that violated pretty much every public health order, holding that entity accountable,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams.

A Superior Court judge has ordered Calvary Chapel San Jose to pay $1.2 million in fines for violating Santa Clara County’s public health order. Stephanie Magallon reports.

Williams said the decision is just one piece of a years-long battle.

A battle that NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit has covered intensely as they sat down with senior pastor Mike McClure.

Wednesday's ruling focused on mask-wearing during the peak of the pandemic, which reduced the original fine from $2.8 million to over $1.2 million.

“This is a really important vindication of those community interests and a really important vindication of everyone, the 1.9 million residents in our community that during the height of the pandemic sacrificed to help save lives,” Williams said.

According to Williams, the county’s health orders and their enforcement resulted in one of the lowest death rates in the U.S.

But the attorney representing Calvary Chapel, Mariah Gondeiro, said this is about the county’s pride and the fight is far from over.

“When I saw the opinion, I didn't break a sweat at all. I know where the Supreme Court stands on these issues. We've already won at the Sixth Appellate District two times,” she said.

Gondeiro talked about what happened in August, when an Appeals Court ruling reversed the lower court decisions that initially forced the chapel to pay up.

The District Court of Appeal cited the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that decided banning indoor worship services in counties where COVID-19 was surging violated freedom of religion. That same month, the Supreme Court decided not to hear a petition from the county hoping to challenge the court of appeals ruling.

“I believe this case is to be a great vehicle on appeal. It's a very clean appeal,” she said.

Gondeiro added that the next step is to file a motion for reconsideration and/or appeal the case at the Court of Appeals.

“In addition, we have appealed the claim we brought specifically against County Counsel James Williams for first amendment retaliation,” she said.

Also at hand, a possible new lawsuit against the county for allegedly conducting unlawful surveillance of churchgoers.

It's a long fight ahead with both sides agreeing a settlement might be possible as long as it's reasonable.

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