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Judge’s Ruling on Smoking Leaves Bar Owner Fuming

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the first Orange County ruling upholding the new smoking ban, a judge dealt a temporary setback Thursday to a Westminster bar owner fighting to allow his patrons to light up.

John Johnson, owner of Lucky John’s Too, had ignored the law banning smoking in bars since it went into effect in January. He sued the city after he was cited, claiming the city had violated his civil rights, and had asked the judge to ban Westminster police from citing him again until his case is heard later this year. The judge denied that request.

“I’m certainly less than delighted with the ruling, but it doesn’t stop us from going forward,” said Ronald Davis, Johnson’s attorney. “It’s one court’s opinion about the argument at a very early stage in the proceeding.”

But county officials hailed the ruling by Judge Tam Nomoto Schumann as a victory for the new smoking law.

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“The judge ruled that it wasn’t a rights issue, it was a public health issue,” said Marilyn Pritchard of the Orange County Health Care Agency. “She said the intent of the law is clear.”

Pritchard, director of the county’s Tobacco Use Prevention Program, added that “the most important thing is that there be an even playing field in the enforcement of this law. If smoking isn’t allowed in any of the bars and smokers have to step outside, then no bar will have an advantage over the other.”

Johnson, who owns three other bars in the county, had argued that he was exempt from the law because he had fewer than five employees and none minded working around smokers.

“I was trying to draw attention to a ridiculous part of the law,” Johnson said. “The citizens are going to have to decide when enough is enough. This thing is really absurd. . . . This is just another little chipping away at our freedom of choice.”

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Johnson said he wasn’t sure if he would allow smoking to continue now that the judge has ruled against him. The city had earlier agreed not to cite Johnson until the judge’s decision Thursday.

“I assume the boys in blue will be back in force,” Johnson’s attorney said.

Fines for bar owners can range from $100 to $7,000, depending on the number of violations and other factors.

Johnson, who has organized Americans for Individual Rights to fight the ban, drew about 200 people to his bar in January when a radio talk show host broadcast from the business during a show dedicated to the cause.

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