Judge dismisses charges against protesting Michigan hair stylists; Nessel's office no show

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Lansing District Court judge has dismissed charges against six hairstylists who cut hair on the Capitol lawn in May as part of a protest against stay-home orders that barred salons and barbershops from opening.  

More than 20 hair stylists cut hair during the rally on the Capitol lawn in part to support 77-year-old Owosso barber Karl Manke, who reopened his business despite threats from state and local health departments. "Operation Haircut" was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and was one of several rallies protesting the governor's stay-home orders last spring and summer.

Charges against Manke were dismissed in October days after the Michigan Supreme Court ruled one of the laws underpinning Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive orders was an unconstitutional delegation of power. 

Barber Karl Manke, of Owosso, gives a free haircut to Parker Shonts on the steps of the State Capitol during a rally in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, May 20, 2020.

A total of seven hairstylists were cited during the May 20 "Operation Haircut," said attorney David Kallman, who represented six of the hair stylists as they faced criminal and administrative licensing complaints.

They had been charged with disorderly conduct for operating an illegal profession or business, a misdemeanor usually reserved for people running illegal gambling operations, prostitution rings or bootlegging, Kallman said. The charge would have been punishable by up to a $500 fine or 93 days in jail.

"Obviously, it's not illegal to cut hair, especially for someone who has a license," he said.

In seeking a dismissal, the hair stylists argued due process and First Amendment violations as well as language they argued would allow stylists to cut hair at "special events."

Lansing District Court Judge Kristen D. Simmons dismissed charges against the demonstrators Monday in a verbal ruling. During the short hearing, Simmons dismissed all charges because Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel's office had failed to appear in court or respond to Kallman's motion to dismiss.

Licensing sanctions against the stylists are still being deliberated. Nessel's office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

"It is a relief that they no longer face the prospect of having a criminal record and potential jail time for merely exercising their right to peaceably speak out," Kallman said in a statement.

"If a person protests certain issues, the governor will ignore her own orders and walk with you," he added said in an apparent reference to Whitmer's participation last summer in an anti-police-brutality march. "But if a person protests the governor, she will prosecute you and attempt to destroy your business."