Vermonters crowd-source legal support for Rutland gym owner

By Guy Page

May 22, 2020 – A crowd-sourced funding page for Club Fitness, the Rutland gym embattled in a legal tussle with Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan, had raised $3,060 as of this morning. 

Club Fitness Legal Support was begun six days ago by Sean Manovill, owner of Club Fitness. The club opened earlier this month for indoor operations, shut down to comply with a legal order, and then reopened outdoors because the order specifically prohibited indoor operation. 

On Wednesday, Donovan’s office has published a lengthy, bullet-pointed letter explaining the terms under which the gym may operate outdoors. However Donovan himself during a WCAX interview was anything but conciliatory: “The idea that he is just going to leave his equipment out in his parking lot and people could come and use it is just unacceptable. That just makes no sense. And so, at the end of the day, this needs to stop. He needs to follow the order. He needs to shut down or there are going to be some possible consequences.”

Rather than accept the “possible consequences” – contempt of court, which carries possible jail time – Manovill, a husband and father of two, followed Donovan’s order that “he needs to shut down.” Speaking of the risk of jail, Manovill said in a Facebook post this week, “I cannot do that to my wife and two children.”

He has reason for concern. Of all of Vermont’s senior elected officials, Donovan has been the most aggressive on promising punishment for infractions of the governor’s executive orders. At a March 30 press conference announcing travel restrictions, Gov. Scott and others hedged on questions of enforcement. Not so Donovan. He specifically noted that fines of up to $10,000 and jail time of up to six months can be imposed. 

But Manovill isn’t giving up. While he does not have the Attorney General’s $12 million budget funding 147 employees including many well-paid lawyers, Vermont justice is still presumed to be blind. But hiring a good lawyer to get her to see your way costs money. Thus the crowd-sourced funding request, Manovill explains:

“Recently, the State of Vermont has decided to take a route to control free people from making a decision about their health and wellness.  In their wake, Club Fitness has been forced into legal ramifications.  Club Fitness wants to stand up for what we believe in, and what our amazing Club Fitness Family believes in.  We have the option to fold, and let the lawmakers have their wishes, but by standing up, we have the ability to change the direction for business all across the state.  The importance of here and now has never meant so much.”

Clearly many funders agree. 

Neil Johnson donated $100. The 2018 candidate for the Moretown seat in the Vermont Legislature wrote: “Hey TJ, You let drug dealers run rampant with no consequences, permits needed or convictions. But you’ll fine, tax, regulate and now jail business owners? For not believing in your little brown shirt team ideas that everyone from the Governor to you, and all the other socialist love…..you’re gonna jail healthy people, quarantine the healthy while you guys did nothing for the elderly? There is no science behind any of your moves, you and Scott are what is wrong with Vermont. We are a republic of free men last I knew, innocent until proven guilty, defense of our constitution from threats foreign and domestic, are you familiar with THOSE TERMS?”

Linden Politi donated $10: “Our human rights, our Constitutional rights, and our sovereignty over ourselves on this earth is being attacked and violated by an onslaught of power hungry bad actors. We must defend our rights or lose them.”

Bradford Broyles donated $100. “The Governor asked us to flatten the curve and we did. Time to stop picking which businesses can open and which cannot. Get yourself a good constitutional lawyer and fight this fight, you’ll win.”

Other avenues for redress and protest are open to concerned Vermonters who wish to act in wisdom and not fear. Here are the links for contacting:

Attorney General TJ Donovan

Governor Phil Scott

Legislators, all of whom have the power of the vote over all Covid-19 legislation, judiciary legislation, and budgeting of state offices.