New Jersey can close gym that defiantly stayed open amid COVID-19, judge rules

New Jersey can flex its muscle over a gym that has repeatedly defied the state’s coronavirus orders, a judge ruled Friday.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has the authority to close the business, the Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, after it openly flouted the governor’s executive order that they remain shuttered during the pandemic, Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy ruled.

Ian Smith, one of the South Jersey gym’s owners, was still defiant after the courtroom loss, posting a video to Facebook saying he would refuse to leave the premises of the business.

“We will not back down under any circumstances,” Smith said while wearing a hat that reads “lions not sheep” and a T-shirt bearing the slogan, “Make America Lift Again.”

Christopher Arzberger, an attorney representing the gym owners, took a more conciliatory tone after the ruling.

The owners are “disappointed that this motion for contempt was granted, however, we do respect the judge’s decision and will be taking all necessary steps to see if there is an issue of appeal here,” he said.

Smith courted publicity as he reopened the fitness center on May 18 in direct violation of Murphy’s mandate, appearing on Fox News at the time to call the forced closure a “gross violation of constitutional rights.”

The owners said on the gym’s Facebook page that the business would operate at 20 percent of capacity with face coverings required and temperatures checked upon entrance.

But the business received summonses every day as it continued to stay open.

Crowds rallied outside in support of the business — some waving American flags — after Smith sued the state in federal court for the right to remain open.

“We understand our clients’ concerns,” Arzberger said. “Small businesses have been under fire lately and we want to make sure all small businesses have an opportunity to be heard.”

With Post wires

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