‘You must abide by the law’: Judge orders owner jailed until Holland restaurant closes

Ottawa County

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — An Ingham County judge laid down the law Friday, telling a Holland restaurant owner who ignored the state dine-in ban and a license suspension in no uncertain terms that she won’t get out of jail until she starts following the rules — this after holding some of her legal help in contempt of court.

“This is the wrong way to get publicity, it’s the wrong way to be a good citizen, it’s the wrong way to assist the public in a pandemic. We do not violate the law,” Judge Rosemarie Aquilina told Marlena Pavlos-Hackney. “I have no reason to believe that you are in compliance in any way, shape or form. And until that’s proven at a hearing, you will be behind bars.”

Pavlos-Hackney, owner of Marlena’s Bistro and Pizzeria, was stopped by police at Lakewood Boulevard and 160th Street in Park Township around 5:45 a.m. Friday. Michigan State Police arrested her without incident, the state attorney general’s office said.

She was wanted on an outstanding warrant for contempt of court after not responding to a state civil case.

In court later, Pavlos-Hackney refused to take an oath to tell the truth and talked back to Aquilina, who gained renown while presiding over the Larry Nassar’s 2018 sentencing for sexual abuse.

“Ma’am, stop,” Aquilina demanded, banging her gavel as Pavlos-Hackney tried to talk over her. “I know you want to control this room, but this isn’t Burger King. When the sign changes to Burger King, you can have it your way. Right now, this is my courtroom and you will answer my questions.”

She said that if Pavlos-Hackney spoke again without taking the oath, she would hold her in contempt.

“You will not act disrespectful in this courtroom,” Aquilina said.

Aquilina then called on Pavlos-Hackney’s attorney. The man she got was Rick Martin of the Texas-based Constitutional Law Group, who is not a licensed attorney and does not have a law degree. He tried to file to represent Pavlos-Hackney and said he was trying to help with translation, but Aquilina wasn’t having it.

“I was not aware that I would be here other than acting as assistance, not as her lawyer, but as assistance of counsel in this matter because she does have understanding problems of the English language, ” Martin said.

“Sir, apparently you have problems with the English language,” Aquilina shot back.

She said the paperwork he had filed clearly said he was appearing as Pavlos-Hackney’s assistance of counsel.

“There is no other definition. It is plain English,” Aquilina said.

She had him arrested for contempt, too. He now faces 93 days in jail.

Several people showed up to support Pavlos-Hackney. At one point, the judge threatened all of them with contempt when they laughed out loud during the hearing.

Ultimately, Aquilina told Pavlos-Hackney she would remain in jail on the contempt charges until she pays a $7,500 fine and closes her restaurant. Her actual attorney offered to call to get the business shut down immediately, but Aquilina said she would need to see proof before she released her.

“Should the restaurant open up again, there will be another bench warrant issued immediately, another pickup order, 93 days and $7,500,” Aquilina added. “I don’t know how long you want to do this, ma’am, but we can keep doing it all year long. You must abide by the law.”

SUPPORTERS BOARD UP RESTAURANT

While Pavlos-Hackney was in court, a small group of supporters gathered at her restaurant, Marlena’s Bistro and Pizzeria, on Lincoln Avenue near US-31. At first, it looked like a regular get-together but it quickly turned into a makeover of sorts. Plywood was sawed and the doors were boarded up. 

“To me, it represents the loss of a battle in a bigger fight for freedom,” Holly Shashaguay, a supporter of the restaurant, said. “I don’t think it’s over.”

Pavlos-Hackney’s attorney Robert Baker said his client is willing to show the judge and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel that she will take the necessary steps to get out of jail. 

“We are doing everything we can to show, to prove, to the judge so Marlena can get out of jail and she’s complying with the court order that it’s closed and not going to reopen,” Baker said. “We’re going a little over the top. Hopefully this is enough.”

Baker expected his client to be behind bars through the weekend. 

“What I’m going to do on Monday, if possible, is submit to the court a pleading saying Marlena has complied,” Baker said.

But he isn’t sure what to expect going forward. 

“I don’t know yet what plan of attack and how successful I will be,” Baker said. “Attack on a few different constitutional grounds.

“There’s due process issues,” he added. “There’s equal protection issues because a lot of companies are open and a lot of people are doing same thing.”

Supporter plan to have a car rally Saturday afternoon starting at Johnson Park in Walker and ending at the restaurant.

—News 8’s Ruben Juarez contributed to this report.

RESTAURANT STAYED OPEN THROUGH DINE-IN BAN, LICENSE SUSPENSION

A bench warrant had been issued for Pavlos-Hackney during a virtual hearing March 4, with a different Ingham County judge saying she should be jailed after flouting the most recent state dine-in ban and then ignoring the January suspension of her license.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office said that after making multiple attempts to get Pavlos-Hackney to comply with the rules, it turned the case over to state police.

In a March 11 phone call, MSP warned Pavlos-Hackney a warrant was out for her arrest and she had a week to turn herself in, according to Friday’s news release. She didn’t.

When News 8 stopped by the restaurant Thursday afternoon, Pavlos-Hackney was still serving customers and was refusing to comply with COVID-19 mitigation protocols like mask wearing or capacity limits.

“This owner has continued to willfully violate the state’s food laws, public health orders and the order of the court – a dangerous act that may have exposed dozens of diners and employees to the virus following the discovery that one of Marlena’s customers tested positive for the virus within two days of eating there. MDARD is particularly concerned because the potential exposure happened at a restaurant that refuses to comply with basic COVID-19 measures required by the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services.”

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel – March 19, 2021

Pavlos-Hackney has argued it is her constitutional right to stay open and operate her business as she sees fit.

“We don’t want this country to be a communist regime that’s going to dictate what we can do and what we cannot do,” she told News 8 Thursday. “I’m not afraid if I have to go to jail, because I fight for freedom.”

Before her arrest, she said she had arranged for staff members to continue running her restaurant.

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