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Owosso barber's license suspension lifted

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

An Owosso barber who gained national attention defying Michigan’s stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic has had his license restored, state officials confirmed Wednesday.

The Michigan Attorney General's office, on behalf of the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, filed a motion Monday to dissolve the summary suspension for Karl Manke’s barber and barbershop licenses, LARA spokesman David Harns told The Detroit News in an email.

An administrative law judge granted the motion Tuesday; a hearing on the merits of the state's formal complaint is scheduled for July 15, Harns said.

After that hearing, the judge “will issue a hearing report on the merits of the formal complaint,” Harns wrote. “If the judge finds that Mr. Manke violated the Occupational Code, the matter will proceed to the Board of Barber Examiners for the imposition of sanctions. While the judge can recommend sanctions, it is ultimately the Board’s decision.”

Reached Wednesday night, Manke’s attorney, David Kallman, said his client was “pleased” with the development.

“Karl can cut hair and he’s not prohibited from carrying on his business, so we’re happy,” Kallman said.

Supporters also hailed the state’s decision.

An Owosso police officer asks to talk with Karl Manke outside before ticketing Karl for being open at Karl's barber shop on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, at in Owosso, Mich. Salons and barber shops have been closed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who said they're not essential during the coronavirus outbreak.

“Karl never should have had his license taken away by the corrupt state in the first place,” Erik Kiilunen, who has led an “all business is essential” campaign during the pandemic, said in a statement.

Manke stopped working in late March as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's orders closed most businesses and public places to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which the state reported had caused 6,036 deaths through Wednesday and infected about 66,500 people.

Hair salons and barbershops were not allowed to reopen until Monday.

The 77-year-old reopened his shop May 4, saying the loss of income affected him. He received a misdemeanor citation from local police that week prior to Michigan State Police serving him with a cease-and- desist order from Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office as well as the Department of Health and Human Services.

Manke briefly stopped cutting hair after the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs suspended his license but returned to work.

A judge refused to issue a preliminary injunction against Manke, who became a symbol of resistance to the stay-at-home order as he kept his business open and legally challenged closure measures.

After state health officials appealed, the Court of Appeals last month ruled the barber had to cease his operations.

Shiawassee County Circuit Judge Matthew Stewart then issued an order saying the shop "shall be locked and closed."

Kallman appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, which recently canceled the lower court's order and sent the case back to the state Court of Appeals for further consideration.

The attorney said he and the Attorney General’s Office signed a stipulation Wednesday awaiting review by Judge Stewart that states Manke “is not a threat to the public at all and the case should be dismissed." 

Representatives with Nessel’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the agreement Wednesday night.

Kallman also said he planned to talk in coming days with Shiawassee officials to resolve the misdemeanor case against Manke.