A South Jersey gym can remain open but must follow strict guidelines or face being shut down again by the state, a judge ruled Monday night.
Superior Court Judge Robert Lougy in Camden ruled that Atilis Gym in Bellmawr must comply completely with an executive order by Gov. Phil Murphy that limits indoor gym use to individual training sessions in separate rooms and bars unrestricted public use.
But the owners of the gym said that’s not going to happen, and that they are willing to take the gym’s doors off the hinges to prevent the state from changing its locks again.
“That is the definition of oppressive restrictions,” said Frank Trumbetti, co-owner of Atilis, which made national news in May for reopening against Murphy’s closure orders. “The bottom line is, we are not going to comply with their non-laws.”
Atilis originally reopened May 18 against Murphy’s orders. Owners Trumbetti and Ian Smith made multiple appearances on Fox News, declaring the orders unconstitutional and garnering a base of national supporters who raised tens of thousands of dollars to help with potential legal fees. Local police wrote municipal citations, and then, on May 22, the New Jersey Department of Health ordered the facility to close indefinitely and changed its locks.
Smith and Trumbetti, represented by New York-based Mermigis Law Group, filed for a temporary restraining order against the state orders. The judge denied their request, but said they could reopen solely to operate the nutrition shop inside, deemed an essential business. The owners hosted workouts outside the gym from June 16 through July 4, but then moved the sessions back inside.
The gym is operating at 25% capacity, said Trumbetti, but patrons are not required to wear masks. He also said they have “loosened up” on social distancing requirements, but require patrons to get their temperatures taken, use hand sanitizer, and sign waivers before entering.
Murphy has said indoor activities in gyms and restaurants remain too much of a public-health risk to reopen.
“I want to get to gyms. I want to get to indoor dining,” Murphy said at a news briefing Friday. “But we can’t do it if we think we’re going to have a likelihood of killing people.”
While the judge didn’t hold the gym’s owners in contempt Monday, the court invited state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli to file a new motion for contempt “if the gym violates the order in any way,” the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement. Trumbetti and Smith say they anticipate that happening soon.
A sign outside the gym Tuesday said: “This is A.M.A.Z. Anti Murphy Autonomous Zone” as patrons walked through the facility, some wearing masks.
Trumbetti criticized Murphy’s recent executive order, which permits contact drills, practices, and competitions to resume for high-risk sports like football, rugby, martial arts, and wrestling, as long as it’s in an outdoor setting.
“I’m allowed to wrestle a guy on the ground, box a guy, fight a person … as long as it’s outside. But I’m not allowed to lift weights in my gym? That’s insane,” said Trumbetti.
He also called Murphy’s guidance for gyms — which are “permitted to offer individualized indoor instruction by appointment only to individuals and their families, caretakers, or romantic partners” — excessive and “against liberty.”
“If they come in here and want to claim we are in violation, everybody is willing to admit that we are all romantically involved,” he said.
Trumbetti said the gym had 463 people come through Monday and had no plans to change protocol.
“It’s time for our business to be open,” he said. “It’s time for all gyms to be open. It’s that simple.”