In an escalating legal fight between the owners of the Bandimere Speedway and public health officials, owner John Bandimere argued Wednesday in Jefferson County District Court that his family’s business would shutter if forced to limit crowd sizes to 175 people as the new coronavirus pandemic continues.
Rebecca Klymkowsky, an attorney representing Jefferson County Public Health, argued the pandemic presented a public health crisis that supersedes the race track’s desire to operate.
“It is not enough for Bandimere to say our attendees want to attend,” Klymkowsky said. “This is larger than Bandimere. It involves the entire community. It involves the entire country. When you consider it in that context, the public interest is in keeping individuals safe.”
The feud began July 2 when the health department sought and received a temporary restraining order against Bandimere. The order required the race track to limit its crowd sizes to 175 people per activity during its July 4 events and to follow social distancing guidelines. But the county health agency said the race track violated the order, which led to Wednesday’s hearing.
The fight has become a flashpoint in political arguments over whether people should be forced to comply with public health orders or allowed to make personal choices as the pandemic surges. The hearing, which was conducted online, drew an audience that sometimes led District Court Judge Tamara Russell to remind listeners to mute their microphones and to respect the court’s decorum rules.
During his testimony, Bandimere argued public health officials did not have better ideas for how the race track could operate safely, and although his family tried to put rules in place they couldn’t control individual behavior.
“I think that’s freedom,” Bandimere said. “It’s freedom to make choices for ourselves. It’s freedom to do things we feel are adequate for our own personal beliefs and our own activities we participate in.”
Randy Corporon, Bandimere’s attorney, argued that the county’s restrictions were unreasonable, improper and would shut down the race track.
“It’s paragraph after paragraph after paragraph, and subparagraph after subparagraph after subparagraph of things they’re asking them to do,” he said. “It will put this 62-year-old family business out of business.”
Bandimere said the speedway took precautions to protect the approximately 7,000 attendees who turned out for the July 4 event, including cutting attendance by about half of a normal holiday event, bringing in hand-washing and sanitizing stations, reminding guests to social distance and suggesting they wear a mask.
When Corporon asked Bandimere to describe what he saw in a photograph depicting fewer race fans than usual at the July 4 event, Bandimere said,”I see a lot of lost revenue.”
James Rada, a JeffCo public health employee sent to observe the track on July 4, said he saw attendees attempting to follow the rules but also witnessed guests gathering in crowds and wearing masks improperly. Employees occasionally failed to correct customers, Rada said.
Corporon called Rada a spy who was “trying to build a case” against the speedway. Instead, Rada could have corrected people himself or alerted employees or the Bandimeres to alleged health violations as they happened.
“How much do you want them to destroy their own business?” Corporon asked. “How can they have the big events they need to survive if they can’t put people in the seats?”
In his questioning of Mark Johnson, executive director of Jefferson County Public Health, Corporon noted that coronavirus deaths largely impacted the elderly and said there were plenty of better ways to protect the elderly than to close the race track.
Johnson agreed that the great majority at risk of dying of COVID-19 were elderly.
“Death is not the only thing we’re concerned about,” Johnson said. “We’re concerned about illness, the use of resources, overwhelming our healthcare system and concerned very much about young people who are infectious to older people. They go home, infect their parents or grandparents….Many people may not die, but they can get very ill and will take a lot of healthcare resources.”
The court hearing will resume at 8 a.m. Thursday, beginning with more testimony from Bandimere. As Wednesday’s hearing ended, Russell acknowledged the political and community issues surrounding the case but said she hoped attorneys came prepared to present legal arguments.
“I know you guys have a loyal fanbase,” Russell said. “But ultimately I have to focus on the legal arguments, not the ones that tug at your heartstrings.”
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