ATWOOD — One of several defendants in a lawsuit filed by owners of a popular roadside market challenging the state’s authority, could be near an out-of-court agreement, an attorney for Friske’s Farm Market said.
“We’ve had contact with the Health Department of Northwest Michigan and its looking like we may be able to work something out,” David A. Kallman said Friday. “That is not the case with the governor, though, far as I can see.”
The owners of Friske’s filed suit against the health department, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and two state agencies Aug. 5, after receiving notice of possible legal action for failing to require customers and employees to wear masks, court documents show.
The suit is aimed at four of the governor’s executive orders – three related to masks and one related to the extension of the state of emergency, documents show.
“This was supposed to be to flatten the curve and make sure our hospitals weren’t at or above capacity,” Kallman said. “It’s not an emergency anymore. If we wait for a cure, we’ll be under a state of emergency for two years.”
On Wednesday, Friske’s was listed as one of six new potential low-risk public exposure sites for COVID-19, in a press release issued by the local health department.
Laurel Johnson, public information officer for the local public health agency, declined comment on the legal negotiations and whether the potential low-risk exposure was related to the market’s mask policy.
Anyone who visited the market between 2 and 3:30 p.m. on August 13 is advised to monitor themselves for symptoms, Health Officer Lisa Peacock said in a statement.
Friske’s owners operate a café, bakery, gift shop and schedule occasional school tours and outdoor farm-related festivals at their orchard on U.S. 31 North. The business does not forbid employees or customers to wear masks, but neither have they required it, Kallman said.
“We believe adults can make their own decisions and understand what to do and how to protect themselves,” Kallman said.
An inquiry to Richie Friske via Kallman was not returned and neither Richard Friske nor Richie Friske returned a call made to their farm office seeking comment.
The owners of Friske Farm Market contacted Kallman for representation because of his work with Karl Manke, the Owosso barber who gained national attention for defying orders to close his barbershop during the stay-at-home order, Kallman said.
“This case is similar only in the sense that it is a dispute of the governor’s authority,” Kallman said. “But they’re different issues. That was over mandatory closure, this one is over masks.”
The recent lawsuit against the governor isn’t the first time the Friske family has made statewide or national headlines for run-ins with a Michigan governor.
The Friske family has operated an orchard business in northern Michigan since Richard W. and Olga Friske came to the U.S. from Germany after World War II, information on the market’s website shows.
Richard W. Friske Sr. was a member of the German Luftwaffe, and openly discussed his war experiences at public events, such as a 1972 Memorial Day parade in Petoskey, where he gave the main address.
The couple worked various jobs in Racine, Wisconsin and Boyne City, before purchasing a 240-acre bankrupt orchard in 1962 and working the land with their three children.
Six years later, Richard W. Friske Sr. entered politics and worked on the 1968 George Wallace presidential campaign, then ran for state representative in Michigan’s 106th district.
He bested 10 challengers in the 1970 Republican primary by, “launching a campaign that would do credit to a gubernatorial candidate,” according to one news report.
Friske’s positions on social issues were immediately controversial — even to fellow Republicans who tried to mount a write-in campaign — before Friske took office in January 1971, news reports show.
After he was elected, Richard W. Friske Sr. was repeatedly called on to defend his membership in the John Birch Society, a far right group that opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which he did in several letters to the editor published in the Petoskey News-Review.
Friske accused Gov. William Milliken of an, “international satanic conspiracy planned for this nation and the world,” opposed racial equity in schools and accused his critics of being communists.
In 1996 Richard Friske Sr. contributed $500 to the Duke Campaign Fund and in 1999, he contributed $1,000 to the David E. Duke Congressional Campaign Fund, data from the Federal Election Commission shows.
David Ernest Duke is a registered Republican, as well as an American white supremacist, a far-right politician and former grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a Louisiana based chapter of the KKK. He served as a Louisiana state representative from 1989 to 1993.
Richard W. Friske Sr. died in 2002, though he and his family’s political history is one Kallman said was worth looking into, in order to determine whether it had any bearing on the recent threats of legal action against Friske Farm Market by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“I’m not well versed in all that but I’m a good Republican and I’ll certainly be asking some questions during discovery,” Kallman said.
MIOSHA threatened action July 20 and 21 against the business for failing to require masks. The public health order served on the business Aug. 1 by the health department was done so with the support of the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, records show.
Under Whitmer’s executive orders those violating the mask policy can be fined up to $500 and charged with a misdemeanor, while a willful violation of MIOSHA workplace safety laws can be dramatically higher — as much as $70,000, records show.
By threatening litigation in the state’s administrative courts, Kallman said his client has fewer rights than if the mask violation was decided in trial courts where there would be access to a jury and a higher standard of proof.
In a 2-1 ruling Friday the state’s appeals court sided with Gov. Whitmer and upheld a lower court decision ruling her executive orders were allowed under law.
The Republican legislature, which brought the suit, has previously vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Attorney General’s Labor Division has assigned attorney William Selesky to represent the state against the Friske suit. AG spokesman Ryan Jarvi declined comment Friday, citing ongoing litigation.