South Bend, Ind. — The St. Joseph County Health Officer, Robert Einterz, admitted to an overreach of his authority when he unilaterally issued a county-wide mask mandate, according to a settlement agreement filed in court on Thursday. The lawsuit, initially filed in October, by Jack Goetz, argued Einterz didn’t have the legal authority to issue such an order. The lawsuit cited state law that the public health authority may only “Instruct the public on the use of masks, gloves, disinfectant, and other means of reducing exposure to the disease,” not mandate it. In the settlement, the county and Einterz agreed that his original public health orders were not enforceable.
The settlement agreement gave a judgement in favor of the plaintiff on three issues: 1) The health order itself does not represent the effect of law. 2) The order instructs the public and provides guidelines on mask wearing. 3) The order does not impose restrictions on residents. All of which means signage put up by the health department claiming residents were mandated to wear masks as part of Einterz’s order, were incorrect.
“We were challenging the order as an overreach of power. They (Einterz and the Health Department) didn’t have the authority to issue it.” Goetz said.
Goetz initially filed his lawsuit in October, but due to a health condition that exempts him from the public health order mask mandate, the judge dismissed the case with him as the plaintiff because he technically didn’t have standing.
“I assumed any citizen could challenge the government for violating its own laws.” Goetz said. “The judge was nice enough to let Maureen (my wife) step in as the plaintiff and use the same suit.”
Einterz and his Health Department issued the mask mandates in a series of unilateral public health orders starting in May of 2020. In November, the County Council voted on an ordinance to mandate masks and issue fines for non-compliance. That ordinance was passed 11-days after Goetz filed his lawsuit. The settlement in his case has no impact on the county ordinance or the governor’s executive order that was originally issued in July of last year.
“The County Council’s Ordinance is up for review in April, hopefully they won’t renew it.” Goetz said. ” The Governor’s order will go away eventually too. This will keep Dr. Einterz from abusing his power again.”
“I hope this will have people look at the actions of the Health Department and the government and question whether what they’re doing is legal. Maybe these people aren’t following the law when they issue orders.” Goetz added.
Many local businesses were publicly shamed in stories by the South Bend Tribune for “violations” of the public health order. One story was published in June before Governor Holcomb’s executive order was even issued. The paper also listed several businesses in a “Repeat Violations” section of an article published in August.
This settlement also comes after Einterz made controversial comments about a gathering at Finnies Next Door bar in South Bend, as reported by the South Bend Tribune earlier this week:
“Have you ever had the good fortune of going to Kenya during the great wildebeest migration? The animals hip to hip, nose to nose, grunting and making all sorts of guttural sounds. Perhaps what was lacking was the very distinct odor that one notices in the wildebeest migration. It is a serious matter but that is what it was like,” he said. “The venue was packed on the main floor with probably 20% of people with a mask.”
REAL News Michiana is working on getting comment from Dr. Einterz and attempting to find out how much money the county spent on legal fees because of his orders.
The initial lawsuit and the settlement are attached below.