HARTFORD, CT—A Connecticut Superior Court judge is weighing whether to include witness testimony from two doctors the state considers “ideologues” in a lawsuit challenging the requirement that students wear masks in schools.
Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher heard arguments Monday on an emergency motion to stop Connecticut education officials from enforcing a requirement that students wear face coverings while at school. The motion stems from a lawsuit seeking to repeal a statewide requirement and prevent local boards of education from enacting their own mask mandates.
The complaint, filed on behalf of parents in five towns, argues that the state lacked the authority to create the mandate and violated the constitutional rights of students by imposing it.
During the hearing, lawyers for the parents sought to introduce the testimony of two out-of-state doctors who claim masks are dangerous for children. Assistant Attorney General Darren Cunningham suggested that both doctors were too ideologically radical to serve as expert witnesses.
“An expert who becomes an advocate for a cause isn’t properly an expert,” Cunningham said.
Among the witnesses the plaintiffs asked to introduce was Dr. Andrew Kaufman, a forensic psychiatrist from Syracuse, New York. Doug Dubitsky, a Republican state representative and one of two lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said Kaufman would speak to the psychological impact of masks on children.
Kaufman described his qualifications including experience conducting suicide risk assessments, working with children, and serving as an expert witness in civil and criminal legal cases.
On cross examination, Kaufman acknowledged that he viewed the pandemic as a “manufactured crisis” designed to increase reliance on “government handouts.” He said he’d lost an employment contract for refusing to wear a mask. Kaufman agreed he had referred to vaccines as something like “syringes full of poison” and suggested he does not believe viruses cause diseases in humans.
As Cunningham listed ailments like polio, HIV, influenza, and the common cold, Kaufman denied viruses were to blame.
“I’m not comfortable with the term ‘denied.’ I’ve looked for scientific evidence to establish that a virus has been isolated and proven to exist and I did not find any evidence to support that,” Kaufman said. “In fact, I would say this for all viruses that are alleged to cause human disease.”
Dubitsky objected many times during Cunningham’s cross examination, saying Kaufman’s beliefs about viruses or vaccines were irrelevant to his witness testimony on the impact of masks on school children.
“His testimony is about forcing kids to wear masks and the psychological and mental harm that they cause,” Dubitsky said.
Moukawsher allowed the questioning.
“The validity of one set of scientific beliefs might be affected by the validity of another set of scientific beliefs. In terms, for instance, of whether this individual will be an aid to the court or not,” the judge said.
The plaintiffs also introduced Dr. James Meehan Jr., an ophthalmologist from Tulsa, Okla. Meehan said he also specialized in immunology and had previously been a medical editor for the journal Ocular Immunology and Inflammation. Meehan said he had testified before the Oklahoma legislature on the subject of masks. He said healthy people should not be wearing them.
“There’s something else driving these public health recommendations because it certainly isn’t the science,” Meehan said.
Cunningham also objected to Meehan’s inclusion as an expert witness, citing entries on his blog which advocated for herd immunity as the only way to prevent pandemics and suggested mask mandates were “always about symbolism, fear, and psychological operations to control the population.” The blog also recommended readers take supplements to boost their immune systems “instead of wearing a face mask.” Meehan acknowledged he received funding when readers bought the supplements using a code from his site.
Cunningham argued that Meehan could not serve as an expert witness because he was an advocate for a certain point of view.
“I’m seeking to show that he is that: an ideologue who has very set views when it comes from this topic and as we just heard is using this pandemic to push his own notion of supplements,” he said.
Moukawsher said he would weigh both witnesses and make a ruling on whether their testimony should be allowed before reconvening the argument at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
For much of the hearing, Moukawsher sought to focus the proceedings on whether the case merited an immediate injunction.
“This isn’t a hearing to decide that in general masks are good or masks are bad. The reason we’re here today is the argument that there is imminent and irreparable harm. That unless I do something right now, we have a problem. Serious danger,” he said. “It’s a big hurdle.”
Lawyers for the state are asking Moukawsher to dismiss the case, saying the plaintiffs had not exhausted their administrative remedies before suing the Education Department and its commissioner. The state also maintains that the mask mandate is written broadly with exemptions providing students with medical issues an avenue to attend school without a mask.
“Those exemptions themselves mean that this really cannot be an emergency situation. Obviously, I don’t know whether these students have availed themselves of these issues,” Cunningham said. “What I can tell you is that the guidance provides exemptions. If they’re claiming that they’re having all these problems from wearing masks, I don’t see how the exemptions don’t apply to that situation.”
However, lawyers for the parents called the exemptions “exceedingly narrow” and said that local schools are not always honoring doctor’s notes recommending that a student not wear a mask. Dubitsky said some students are having “very serious reactions” to the masks.
“You’re telling me that people with bona fide medical conditions who have applied for an exemption have been refused?” Moukawsher asked. “Do you have evidence of that? Give me an example of a medical condition you’re talking about.”
“Having trouble breathing. Panic attacks. There’s sleep disorders. There’s behavioral changes,” Dubitsky said. He described another example where “the school refused to acknowledge that and refused to give an exemption.”
Cunningham said the situations Dubitsky was describing were inappropriate under the state guidelines.
“You’re getting into something that’s a problem between the execution by a local board of education and the state Department of Education’s guidance on this,” he said. “It may have taken a phone call to the state Department of Ed to correct the situation. It certainly doesn’t rise to the level of enjoining the state from requiring masks in school districts.”