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California woman who refused to wear a mask found guilty of trespassing

A California woman was found guilty Wednesday. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Marianne Campbell Smith’s defiance of anti-mask rules didn’t end at a Costa Mesa supermarket.

In an unusual move, Orange County prosecutors took her to trial.

On Wednesday, a jury found Smith, who is married to a sixth-generation heir of the Irvine development family, guilty of misdemeanor trespassing and obstructing a business or its customers.

It was the first mask-related criminal conviction in a county known for its vocal minority of anti-maskers who have staged oceanfront protests and picketed government meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The jury took roughly an hour Wednesday afternoon to decide the case, which not only focused on the rights of a private business to enforce its policies but also on whether Smith’s refusal to wear a mask inside the store or leave was intended to interfere with and obstruct the business.

After the verdict was read, Judge John Zitny sentenced Smith to a $200 fine, 40 hours of community service and a year of informal probation. Smith, who wore a plastic face shield in the courtroom, was also ordered to stay away from the market’s Costa Mesa location for a year.

“I’m innocent,” Smith said as she walked out of the courthouse. “Even though the verdict was guilty, I committed no crimes except to be able to breathe oxygen. I have a medical disability, and it was not honored at Mother’s Market that day.”

Orange County law enforcement has largely taken an educational approach to masks and other COVID-19 regulations, advising people to follow the rules rather than citing them.

In Costa Mesa, face coverings have been required in public since April 2020.

A Costa Mesa bar owner is the only other person in the county to be criminally charged with flouting COVID restrictions. That case was dismissed in August.

Assistant  Dist. Atty. Susan Price told jurors in a closing statement that Smith entered the market with the intention of being disruptive.

Price pointed to surveillance video showing Smith inside the busy market waving at anti-mask protesters gathered outside.

“This is a case about a woman and her friends trying to make a point, trying to get some attention,” Price said.

Smith, 57, a registered nurse from San Juan Capistrano, is the wife of Morton Irvine Smith, a member of the Irvine family which once owned much of Orange County.

Prosecutors allege that Marianne Smith was attending a rally to protest mask mandates on Aug. 15, 2020, when she and two other women entered Mother’s Market.

Smith’s attorney, Frederick Fascenelli, said his client was attempting to buy chips and a salad when she was followed by store employees and a security guard who told her to put on a mask or leave.

She explained that she had a medical condition that prevented her from wearing a mask, he said.

Price told jurors Wednesday that employees offered to shop for Smith, but she declined and refused to leave the store despite multiple requests.

Video played in court showed Smith carrying a sign under her arm that read “Healthy people do not wear masks” on one side and “Economic Health = Public Health” on the other.

Smith and a second woman, Jennifer Marie Sterling, walked to the checkout line. Employees refused to serve Smith, so she left $5 near the register, the footage shows.

At the same time, protesters began moving toward the store’s entrance, prompting employees to close the door. Prosecutors allege in a court filing that Smith harassed an elderly customer, telling him, “You don’t have to be scared. It’s all a lie.”

When officers arrived, they asked Smith if she was “doing this for her cause.”

She replied, “Yes, but also for our freedom,” according to the filing.

A video posted on social media showed police leading Sterling — who wore a skirt with “Trump” written across it — and Smith out of the store through a crowd of protesters.

Some held signs that read, “Keep your politics off our faces” and “My body my choice.” Others yelled that the officers were “fascists” and chanted “let her go.”

Smith’s husband was seen in the video speaking to officers while holding a large American flag. A man held a speaker blasting a guitar-heavy version of the Star Spangled Banner as the two women were led into an unmarked police van.

Sterling, 56, of Laguna Beach, was also charged in the incident and pleaded no contest to an infraction as part of a plea deal. She was ordered to make a $50 donation to a COVID response fund for nurses, according to Orange County Superior Court records.

Price said Wednesday that prosecutors offered Smith a deal where she would do community service without having to plead guilty to any crime. She declined.

The case was not about masks but trespassing, prosecutors argued.

“The defendant wanted to make this about masks and freedom. This trial was about a private business and workers just trying to comply with health orders,” Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer said in a statement read during sentencing. “As the DA, we protected private property rights. Nothing more.”

But Fascenelli said the charges filed against his client didn’t match what transpired inside the store.

“This thing is all political,” Fascenelli told jurors. “If Mrs. Smith wouldn’t wear a mask, then charge her with that crime.”


© 2021 Los Angeles Times
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