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Roanoke gym owner challenges charge of violating closure order

Roanoke gym owner challenges charge of violating closure order

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A Roanoke fitness center owner accused of violating a statewide closure order is now challenging the charge against him.

Thomas Milton, who owns Titan Fit in northwest Roanoke, was cited April 19 for staying open in defiance of Executive Order 53. The directive, prompted as a precaution against COVID-19, ordered the temporary closure of gyms and other businesses deemed nonessential.

On Wednesday, Milton filed a motion to dismiss the misdemeanor charge. His attorney, Greg Phillips, argued that the order violates the constitutions of both the United States and Virginia, and he claims it exceeds the governor’s authority under the Emergency Services and Disaster Law.

The motion also cites a recent study by a University of Virginia researcher that found exercise can in some cases can prevent or reduce the severity of infection caused by coronavirus.

“In other words, Mr. Milton was offering an essential service to his members while remaining open,” Phillips wrote. “This Executive Order is marred with Constitutional deficiencies; directly conflicts with the Code of Virginia; and flies in the face of common sense. Today, under this Order, citizens can enter ABC stores and Tobacco stores to purchase unhealthy items, but these same citizens ... are barred from going to a gym to improve their health.”

Virginia Forward, a plan to gradually reopen businesses, says gyms must remain closed during the initiative’s first phase, which starts Friday and could last for weeks, with some leeway for outdoor exercises.

Milton’s legal argument says he was first contacted by police April 6, after officers were dispatched to his business. He said no citation was issued until a second visit on April 19.

Roanoke police have declined to say exactly how the matter came to their attention, but a spokeswoman said Wednesday that no other local business owners have been charged for violating the order.

Milton’s case is currently set to be heard in Roanoke on July 7.

Phillips is a member of the Stanley Law Group, whose managing partner is state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin. Stanley has been active in the push to have Gov. Ralph Northam reopen the state.

Last month a Virginia judge rejected a petition from a Falls Church gym owner who asked to reopen his business despite the executive order.

But earlier in April, a Lynchburg judge ruled that a gun range could reopen because he felt the governor’s emergency authority was outweighed by the right to bear arms.

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