Private gym-owner in Roanoke charged with violation of Gov. Northam’s Executive Order 53

Coronavirus

MONETA, Va. (WFXR) — On Sunday, April 19, Thomas Milton, the owner of Titan Fit in Roanoke was charged by summons for violating Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 53, which states all “non-essential” businesses be closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Commonwealth, this includes Milton’s private member-only fitness club.

Attorneys for the owners say Titan Fit is a small business that is licensed to operate under the Virginia Health Club Act, Virginia Code § 59.1-294. The health and fitness club has been in operation for over three years, with four full and part-time employees, serving over 200 members in the Roanoke region 24 hours a day.

According to Executive Order 53, the criminal charge is a Class One Misdemeanor, which could result in 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Never in my 27-year law practice have I ever seen anything like this, a business owner charged with a crime for trying to save his business and keep his clients healthy. This is especially ironic, when the type of business that he operates is focused on the health and fitness of citizens of the Commonwealth. Mr. Milton deliberately practiced all requirements that other businesses that are allowed to stay open have utilized subsequent to the issuance of EO 53.

Mr. Milton, like so many other small businesses throughout the Commonwealth, is a responsible and deliberate owner who puts the health and well-being of his club members and staff first. Yet, these ‘non-essential’ businesses have been told to shut down for nearly a month, and they have complied. Many of us have wondered what in the Governor’s mind qualifies as an ‘essential business,’ and what is deemed not, especially when we see the parking lots overflowing in stores such as Wal-Mart and Lowe’s, and our ABC stores remain open, with little to no restriction to the number of customers in their establishments at any given time. EO 53 has been unfairly and unequally applied to businesses throughout Virginia, and has had the operative effect of leaving it to the Governor to pick ‘winners and losers’ between businesses and industries based upon a subjective and flawed standard.

The time has now arrived for these business owners, not bureaucrats, to be the ones to be empowered to make responsible decisions of when and how to re-open their businesses. I trust in Mr. Milton and other responsible owners to re-open and operate their businesses in a safe manner that takes into account ‘social distancing,’ safe hygiene and stringent store cleaning practices. Both myself and The Stanley Law Group are honored to represent a small business owner like Mr. Milton, and we will not rest until he is found ‘not guilty’ of this meritless and unenforceable criminal charge of violating Governor Northam’s Executive Order 53.

Greg Phillips, attorney with the Stanley Law Group

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