Owosso barber set to appeal $9,000 fine for defying COVID order in court
An Owosso barber who gained national attention last spring when he defied Michigan's COVID-19 stay-home orders was fined $9,000 Monday for various violations of the state's licensing rules.
But barber Karl Manke plans to appeal the violations investigated and prosecuted after his decision last year to cut hair in defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-home order. His lawyer said the fines are a "last gasp" effort by the state to punish Manke after repeated failures in other legal venues.
"This just demonstrates the pettiness and vindictiveness of the state in all of their actions against Karl over the last year," said Dave Kallman, Manke's lawyer.
The Michigan Board of Barber Examiners voted Monday to fine Manke for violations that included carrying a comb in his pocket, accumulating hair and neck guards on the floor at the barber shop, and participating in a May 20 hair cut protest on the Michigan Capitol steps in May.
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Manke was fined $500 for each of three sanitation and equipment violations and $3,000 for unlicensed hair cutting on the Capitol steps. The fines were assessed once on his personal license and once on his business license.
"Some things that were seen that were very disturbing to say the least, to put it mildly," said barber board member De'Angelo Smith Sr. "The hair, the neck strips, the comb, the clippers — it’s our responsibility to make sure ... that we’re putting the public in the most safest place possible as it relates to providing services.”
At least four GoFundMe pages set up to support Manke raised a total of roughly $87,000 at the height of his hair-cutting protest last year.
Manke had argued last year that the sanitation violations were isolated and his hair-cutting protest at the Capitol was a form or free speech.
An administrative law judge ruled earlier this month that Manke didn't have a permit to cut hair on the state Capitol steps and that the First Amendment does not allow him "to violate laws governing his profession by cutting hair outside of a licensed barber shop."
"Respondent had the option of protesting without cutting hair," Judge Stephen Goldstein wrote. "He chose a different path and in so doing has violated the code."
Kallman plans to appeal Goldstein's decision and the board's sanctions in Shiawassee County Circuit Court in an effort to have all of the violations thrown out. The alleged violations were, at the least, petty and, at the worst, unconstitutional, the lawyer said.
Manke shouldn't have been fined $6 for his demonstration on the Capitol steps, let alone $6,000, Kallman added, noting the October Michigan Supreme Court decision that overturned the executive orders Manke was protesting.
"You should not be penalizing someone over their right to free speech, especially about something he’s right on,” he said.
Manke stopped working in late March 2020 under an initial shutdown order from Whitmer, but reopened May 4, arguing that he was doing so to keep afloat financially.
He received a misdemeanor citation from local police and was served a cease-and-desist order by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office and the Department of Health and Human Services that launched a series of court rulings and appeals regarding the closure of the barbershop.
Manke's appeal of the shutdown order eventually made it to the Michigan Supreme Court, which in June overturned a lower court ruling that had ordered Manke's shop closed.
The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs temporarily suspended Manke's license May 13 before reinstating it in June. Manke continued cutting hair during that time.
On June 22, the department began a formal proceeding to sanction Manke's license and held a variety of hearings before Goldstein on March 1, 2021 ruled Manke was guilty of the sanitary and unlicensed violations at issue in Monday's Board of Barber Examiners meeting.