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Lawmaker’s loud crusade to fight local mask mandates continues to get quietly shot down by judges

Attorney and Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini has filed more than a dozen lawsuits in counties and cities statewide challenging their mask mandates.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — This week, for the fifth time, a judge rejected arguments that a local ordinance requiring people to wear masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 is unconstitutional.

Attorney and Lake County Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini has filed lawsuits challenging local mask mandates in more than a dozen counties and cities across the state of Florida—including in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties—raising several constitutional arguments, including that ordinances violate privacy rights.

RELATED: Florida lawmaker files lawsuit against Manatee County, one of 14 lawsuits against mask mandates

No judge, so far, has ruled in his favor.

In his final judgment issued Tuesday, Circuit Judge David Frank went so far as to suggest Sabatini could be sanctioned for filing “frivolous” lawsuits.

"At least four other courts have rejected challenges to local Florida mask ordinances that are stated exactly as stated in the present case,” the judge wrote in a footnote. “This begs the question, when is enough, enough?"

Sabatini, in an email to 10 Tampa Bay on Wednesday, characterized the judge’s comments as a “remarkably incorrect view and misstatement of the law on sanctions,” and were “dangerously close to being a personal political statement.”

The Howey-in-the-Hills Republican said they’ve already appealed the decision, just as they have in every other case, noting that no appellate court in the state has heard any the cases yet.

Stetson law professor Lou Virelli says legally it’s a cut and dry case because it’s not a legal issue so much as a policy issue.

"When public safety is the issue, our elected officials have the ability to change the way we behave in order to protect that public safety,” he said. “The law is not going to be the avenue by which this gets changed because it is within the legislature's power to do."

Dr. Jay Wolfson, a professor of public health at the University of South Florida who served as an expert witness for Hillsborough County in their lawsuit hearing, likened mask ordinances to other government regulations in the name of safety, like seatbelts.

He says some of the pushback against mask policies isn’t s surprise even if the science is there.

"There's little question that some facial covering is better than none,” Wolfson said. "It's about being able to translate what we know in science into policy and practice—look how long we've tried to that with cigarette smoking and people still smoke, knowing it's dangerous."

Attorneys for Pinellas County have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit against their mask mandate, pointing to other similar suits that have now been rejected.

RELATED: Coronavirus under control in 8 weeks if everyone wears masks, CDC director says

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health experts around the world have said widespread face mask usage can help slow the spread of COVID-19. Recent studies affirmed "that cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities," the CDC wrote.

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