Court sides with Murphy, forces defiant gym to close completely
BELLMAWR — After warning a pair of defiant gym owners not to play games, a judge on Friday found the Atilis Gym of Bellmawr in contempt of court and granted the state permission to lock or barricade the gym.
Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy, sitting in Trenton, signed the order days after Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti openly declared that they would not comply with a Monday court order compelling the gym to follow Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders, which only allow fitness centers to provide one-on-one or single family instruction by appointment.
The order also puts the gym on the hook for daily fines that have yet to be determined.
The court on Monday had allowed the gym to remain open as long as it began to follow the rules. But Smith and Trumbetti, whose possibly quixotic legal fight against the state has become a cause célèbre among those opposed to Murphy’s pandemic orders, had no intention of obeying the court and removed the gym’s front doors from the hinges to prevent officers from changing the locks.
The Attorney General’s Office, pointing to the owners’ own words in the press and on social media, as well as a detective’s observations of business as usual at the gym on Wednesday, asked the judge to shut down the gym based on the owners “flagrantly and wantonly … exhibiting open contempt and derision for health officials and the court.”
“Today's ruling underscores that companies cannot disregard the Governor’s Executive Orders, which are designed to protect us all in the face of an unprecedented public health crisis,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
“While I wish it had not come to this, I am grateful that the court recognized the need for compliance. The vast majority of businesses and residents are following these rules and doing their part to keep their friends and neighbors safe, and those few companies who flout our Executive Orders are once again on notice that we will hold them accountable, and that there will be serious consequences for their actions.”
After the court order, Smith took to Instagram and Facebook to say that he and his partner were “prepared to stay inside the building no matter what.”
“Murphy got his way. He is coming to change the locks,” Smith said, sporting his trademark long beard along with a “Make America Lift Again” shirt and a “Lions Not Sheep” cap.
Their latest maneuver, according to Smith, is to change their gym's status from a limited liability company to a private membership association, which Smith believes places the gym outside the purview of regulators.
The governor’s office referred New Jersey 101.5’s questions about how the executive orders apply to a private membership association to the Division of Consumer Affairs, which referred the question back to the administration.
The Health Department got the gym to close in May but Atilis was allowed to reopen in June for retail sales of clothing and nutritional goods. The state this month also was willing to allow Atilis to stay in business as long as it followed the rules governing gyms.
Smith, however, openly stated that the gym had continued to violate the orders.
“The bottom line is, we are not going to comply with their non-laws,” Trumbetti told reporters this month.
On Wednesday, health inspectors and police went to the gym to see whether they were complying but were denied entry.
Observing from outside, investigators said masks were not provided to staff, patrons were not wearing face coverings and the gym had not installed any floor to ceiling partitions.
A detective from the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office counted 72 patrons entering from 5:45 a.m. to 10:09 a.m., and 70 were not wearing masks. Between 4:11 and 6:11 p.m., the detective counted 33 patrons entering; 23 were not wearing masks.