Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Democrats’ statement opposing the move.
On Thursday, Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine released a two-page legal opinion analyzing the enforceability of the Executive Orders issued by Gov. JB Pritzker and the Emergency Rule issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health, concluding that violations of either will not result in the filing of criminal charges by his office.
“Since taking office earlier this month as Madison County State’s Attorney I have directed a close review of all the various legal issues regarding the various applicable COVID-19 mandates,” said Haine. “I am now making these legal opinions public to provide a clear reference point for both public officials and private citizens relating to COVID-19 enforcement in Madison County, and to alleviate the concerns of many individuals who rightly feel an obligation to follow the law but are confused as to what the law actually is regarding the many COVID-19 mitigation protocols issued over the past months.”
In summary, Haine concluded that “an individual would not be committing a crime if he or she were to violate the Emergency Rule issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health or any of the Governor’s COVID-19 Executive Orders, as these mandates do not contain a legal basis for prosecution against an individual citizen. Accordingly, my office is neither able nor willing to file criminal charges against anyone suspected of violating these directives from the State of Illinois.”
Haine’s legal opinion went on to analyze other applicable legal rules and considerations relating to COVID-19, and provide guidance to businesses on how to navigate customers’ individual rights while requiring basic COVID-19 precautions. “While my office cannot charge any individual with a crime for not following these COVID-19-related state directives, we can prosecute individuals for trespass or disorderly conduct if someone refuses to leave an establishment after being asked by the business owner,” Haine noted in an accompanying press release. “Just as individual citizens have rights, businesses also have rights which will be protected. Businesses must be given discretion on how and when to operate in accordance with applicable guidelines and subject to their own risk management.”
Haine acknowledged that the Madison County Health Department may seek a court order requiring isolation or quarantine, or a business to close, based on COVID outbreak or infection, which his office will handle on a case by case basis. Haine also stated that his office has no involvement and no legal authority to prosecute anyone suspected of violating Edwardsville’s recently adopted mask mandate.
“In exercising the discretion of my office, we will protect the rights of individuals and businesses. Our Constitutional rights are not suspended during a pandemic,” Haine said.
Democrats say Haine playing politics with his official duties
Madison County Democrats wasted no time criticizing the move by State’s Attorney Tom Haine.
In a statement, Randy Harris, chairman of the Madison County Democratic Party, blasted Haine, a Republican.
“In a disappointing statement that was only intended to mislead and make Madison County residents less safe, Thomas Haine has shown that he intends to use his official office for pure political purposes in an
attempt to advance his own public career,” the statement issuedFriday morning (today) said.
“The statement from Thomas Haine that he will not prosecute nor charge an individual with a ‘crime’ for refusing to follow the state’s COVID-19 mandates is a fully political ploy intended to deceive the public. It took Mr. Haine less than a month to play politics with his official duties, as Mr. Haine knows, that the state mandates and the Edwardsville orders are not criminal issues, they are civil in nature. Mr. Haine is playing politics with the lives of people in Madison County, rather than fulfilling his duty and obligation to protect the public,” said the statement from Harris.
“Perhaps Mr. Haine should spend more time working with our local leaders to develop strategies to lower our skyrocketing COVID-19 positivity rate, rather than issuing baseless and purely political press releases. With vaccines on the way, now is the time to be even more vigilant in trying to suppress this virus. To combat the deaths and destruction COVID-19 is causing our county we need real leaders, not someone already thinking about his next campaign,” the party statement said.