Earlier this week, attorneys with Stand Up Montana and the Missoula City County Health Department met before District Judge Jason Marks to set a date for a hearing in a lawsuit challenging the ‘mask mandate’ set by Health Officer Ellen Leahy.

Representing Stand Up Montana, attorney Quentin Rhoades described what happened at the hearing.

“We filed an action to try to get the county health department to give up on this ‘mask rule’ that's been pending for some time,” said Rhoades. “We've tried to work with peoples’ schedules and calendars, because we have to coordinate a number of them, but we were in court this week with Judge Jason marks, and he set the hearing for preliminary injunction at the earliest available docket time which is May sixth and seventh.”

Rhoades introduced the legal term ‘irreparable harm’ to describe what will be presented at the upcoming hearing.

“The hearing is going to be what they call an ‘irreparable harm’ hearing,” he said. “Basically, we're going to be presenting evidence by our plaintiffs’ witnesses talking about how the mask rule interferes with their ability to make their own healthcare choices and that sort of thing. Then we anticipate the county will try to introduce into evidence, some sort of science that would support the idea that there's efficacy associated with mask use, however, typically there's very little evidence that masks do anything except maybe make people feel better.”

Rhoades said he will be presenting evidence that will hopefully provide some relief to his clients.

“It’s a preliminary injunction hearing, so we go to the judge and say, we'd like all or part of the relief that we're seeking, ultimately on a preliminary basis, because we either have an excellent chance of prevailing on the merits, or we have irreparable harm based on interference with their constitutional rights,” he said. “The Montana Supreme Court has been pretty clear that if a statute or regulation is interfering with constitutional rights, then that satisfies the requirements of irreparable harm in order to get a preliminary injunction.”

Rhoades said Missoula, along with some of the other larger municipalities, are the few in the state that still insist on the county-wide mask mandate.

“It's really not that big a deal ultimately,” he said. “I mean, there are three or four counties in Montana that are still requiring masks. I was in court on Tuesday up in Kalispell, and nobody in Flathead County was wearing masks. I went through Lake County and there were a few people in Lake County wearing masks on the reservation. And Wednesday I was in court down in Hamilton and there was nobody wearing masks. “The only place you see people wearing masks in those counties is inside the courthouses.”

Recently, Health Officer Ellen Leahy told KGVO News that the number of COVID 19 cases in Missoula County is increasing, and that the wearing of a mask is an essential part of preventing the spread of COVID 19, along with social distancing and becoming vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Judge Marks will hold the hearing on May sixth and seventh in Missoula District Court.


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