COVID deniers drop lawsuit against health department; their $130k legal fund remains

By: - March 17, 2021 1:00 am

Robert Gargasz, co-counsel on the Ohio Stands Up lawsuit, pictured waving an American flag. Photo courtesy of David O’Brien, The Chronicle-Telegram.

A citizen group called Ohio Stands Up dropped its lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Health after alleging the state’s orders to slow the spread of COVID-19 amounted to “absolute tyranny.”

The group of plaintiffs is comprised of eight Ohioans — including Ohio Board of Education member Kirsten Hill — who baselessly alleged that COVID-19 is no more dangerous than the flu and state government “knowingly concealed and covered up” the data that proves it. The suit is rife with conspiracy theorizing, inaccuracies and distortions surrounding COVID-19.

In its lawsuit, Ohio Stands Up asked a judge to overturn all COVID-19 health orders and award $75,000 in damages to each plaintiff.

In a filing last month, U.S. District Judge James Carr found the group failed to satisfy a legal rule requiring plaintiffs to provide a plain statement explaining their argument. He ordered them to explain themselves by March 5.

He also described the group’s filings as nearly “incomprehensible” and some of the supporting evidence of “dubious provenance and admissibility.”

One day before the deadline to answer Carr’s order, attorneys for Ohio Stands Up asked him to dismiss the case without prejudice, which would allow them to re-file if they choose. He obliged.

Ohio Stands Up used the crowdsourcing website GoFundMe to raise more than $130,000 to “fund legal services” of two Ohio attorneys: Thomas Renz and Robert Gargasz. About $4,200 of the total arrived after Carr dismissed the suit March 4, according to an analysis of the group’s GoFundMe data.

The GoFundMe account’s administrator, Jason Hedges, posted a message to the page purportedly on Renz’s behalf March 6. The 1,079-word post never specifically mentions Ohio Stands Up dropping its lawsuit. The post states the group is in early phases of its “plans” and that news on several different actions is looming.

It urges donors not to “chastise the Courts” even when “a ruling does not go the way you want it to,” but defends the lawsuit against Carr’s findings.

“We are quite eager to continue with our work and, now that the Court has clarified what it wants to see, feel very good about the next steps,” the post states. “We also look forward to sharing the MANY new/additional things we are working on.”

Efforts to reach Renz and Hedges for interviews were unsuccessful. However, Renz and Gargasz jointly responded in a cease and desist letter. They disputed prior reporting from this outlet but did not list any specific facts they believed to be in error.

Tom Renz speaks to the House State and Local government Committee Feb. 17. Source: Ohio Channel.

The Ohio Department of Health declined to comment.

Ohio Stands Up filed its initial lawsuit in September. However, in December, it filed a new suit against an array of federal health agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Center for Health Statistics.

The new suit refers to COVID-19 as “the greatest hoax in American history” but also claims other countries “inflated numbers too.”

Hill, the state school board member, did not respond to emails. She previously organized a bus trip to a “Stop the Steal” rally at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that descended into a deadly insurrection on Congress. Hill said she organized the bus trip and attended the rally but her group did not take part in the Capitol raid.

Both lawyers on the case have used controversial language. Gargasz, during a failed campaign for Lorain County prosecutor last year, called for for “Marxist anarchists” and “communists” to be shot and “stacked like cordwood.”

Renz recently testified to a state House committee on a bill to allow lawmakers to vote down public health orders without the governor’s approval. YouTube later removed footage of his testimony — which was similar to the arguments made in the lawsuits — for violating its COVID-19 misinformation policy.

The dropped lawsuit appears to be the first Renz had filed in federal court, according to a search of federal court records for his name.

An earlier version of this report misidentified Judge Carr’s first name. 

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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.

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