Criminal COVID case can proceed after judge rejects restaurant owner’s double-jeopardy plea

A Long Beach Superior Court judge on Thursday rejected an argument that a restaurant owner who flouted coronavirus regulations was being unfairly punished twice by facing criminal charges in addition to fines and fees.

The decision means the misdemeanor case against Restauration owner Dana Tanner can move forward now that Judge Amy Yerkey decided the double-jeopardy plea proposed by Tanner attorney didn’t apply.

“While I admire the creativity of the argument, I’m making a finding here that it is insufficient,” Yerkey said in a brief hearing Thursday morning.

Tanner is facing 20 misdemeanor charges including accusations that she kept illegally serving diners at her Fourth Street restaurant during the height of the pandemic and that she ran an illegal gas line to her kitchen after city officials cut her off in an attempt to shut her down.

After Yerkey blocked the double-jeopardy defense, Tanner’s attorney, Bryan Schroeder, entered a not guilty plea on her behalf.

Dana Tanner on the phone while at her restaurant Restauration in Long Beach on January 25, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Schroeder had argued that Tanner shouldn’t be punished twice after Long Beach already issued administrative fines and revoked Tanner’s license to operate Restauration, which she’s continued to keep open regardless.

In addition to the criminal case, Tanner is also in civil court challenging the city’s decision to shut her down, arguing she and other restaurants were unfairly targeted as vectors of coronavirus.

She asked a judge to intervene and force the city to return her permit. Health officials have said they closed restaurants because they posed a unique risk with patrons gathered for long periods of time without masks.

Tanner refused to close her patio during the worst portions of the local coronavirus outbreak when Long Beach was seeing almost 5,000 new coronavirus infections per week. The city repeatedly cited and fined her, starting when plans for Tanner’s New Year’s Eve party at the restaurant went public.

Tanner has said she hopes to reach a deal with the city to keep Restauration open and avoid a criminal trial.

Schroeder said he doesn’t see that happening unless the case winding its way through civil court can be resolved first.

“I just don’t know that we could ever reach a decision,” he said Thursday. “Outside of this courtroom, the sides are sort of dug in.”

The first hearing in Tanner’s civil case is scheduled for next month.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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