Restaurant owner Albert Lea convicted of violating state’s COVID mandate

ALBERT LEA, Minn. – The owner of a wine and beer bar who blatantly flouted Gov. Tim Walz’s executive orders to shut down last winter during the COVID-19 pandemic was convicted of six counts of felony Thursday by a Freeborn County jury.

A jury of three women and three men took only an hour of deliberation to convict Lisa Hanson, the 57-year-old bar owner, after a three-day trial punctuated by Hanson’s repeated attempts to argue that the orders de Walz were unconstitutional.

Judge Joseph Bueltel followed the reading of the verdict of a scathing denunciation of Hanson’s behavior, explaining why the governor’s orders were legal. “You wanted to make money rather than the interest of public safety,” he said. “You don’t recognize the law. You don’t think you’re subject to the law.”

He then sentenced her to 90 days in jail, which began immediately, and fined $ 1,000, far more than Albert Lea’s lawyer Kelly Dawn Martinez, who pursued the case, had asked.

Asked to comment on the verdict, Hanson raised his fist and shouted, “Freedom and freedom! as she was taken away by sheriff’s deputies.

It was the dramatic end of a saga that began last December when Hanson posted public announcements on his Facebook page encouraging people to visit his Interchange bar and restaurant in downtown Albert Lea, despite two executive orders. Walz banning indoor dining in bars and restaurants for a period of four weeks.

After an arrest warrant was issued against her, Hanson went into hiding. She was arrested several weeks later in Iowa, where she was staying in a motel.

Her restaurant has been closed since February and the city of Alberta Léa decided earlier this year not to renew her lease, which will expire at the end of the year. In the meantime, she was fined $ 9,000 in a case brought by Attorney General Keith Ellison and another $ 18,000 fine in November in connection with the case.

The trial on the criminal charges began on Tuesday. Hanson represented herself, but got into trouble with Bueltel early on when she tried to question in her opening statement the legality of Walz’s orders.

Bueltel explained to her that to challenge the constitutionality of the law, she had to either sue the state of Minnesota or appeal a decision in her criminal case to a higher court. Nonetheless, Hanson continued to attempt to raise the issue as she cross-examined prosecution witnesses, drawing repeated objections from the prosecutor, which Bueltel argued.

After the testimony of half a dozen law enforcement officials and health investigators who said they saw customers eating and drinking at Hanson’s business during the shutdown, Hanson closed his case without present witnesses for the defense. She also refused to testify.

In his final argument, Martinez read a series of public statements Hanson had made, including: “I will open despite the government shutdown.” Martinez added: “She was aware of the decree. She chose to violate the decree.… The evidence is overwhelming.”

In her final argument, Hanson said she had a duty to challenge “the undue exercise of governmental authority” and “the overbreadth of overzealous government.”

Bueltel then told jurors they had to follow the rules of law, even if they didn’t accept them. He said they were obligated to find her guilty if they found that she operated the bar and restaurant, served food and drink on site on the dates cited in the charges, knew the law existed and intentionally raped her.

The quick verdict surprised Hanson and his supporters. They had made their way to the Interchange, a few blocks away, where his supporters were organizing a fundraiser to pay his legal bills, and had to hurry back to the courthouse.

She listened intently without expressing the reading of the guilty verdicts, moving only slightly in her chair.

After the verdict, Martinez demanded that Hanson be fined $ 500 and several days in jail, while Hanson countered that she was a “good person” and that the punishment was unnecessary. “I don’t need a fine,” she said. “I don’t need to go to jail. I need to be with my family.”

Bueltel then delivered a long explanation of his sentence. “I’m going to be criticized no matter what,” he began.

He said the law gave Walz the power to issue shutdown warrants, which stemmed from state law giving the governor the power to respond to peacetime emergencies involving natural disasters. Executive decrees had to be approved by the executive council of state constitutional agents and could be overturned if both houses of the state legislature disapproved of them, he said.

Walz’s warrants were put in place due to public safety concerns over COVID-19 when people spread the disease in indoor places, hospitals were overflowing with patients and there was no vaccine, he said. he declares.

“You don’t decide you’re governor,” Bueltel told Hanson. “You don’t have that role. You were a public risk. You kept your business open.… You were making money while the suckers on the streets were closing.” He noted that several potential jurors who had opinions on the case had to be fired as they operated bars that closed during the same period, while it remained open to earn money.

Bueltel said he wanted to send a message not only to Hanson but to anyone else who would consider defying the decrees.

Joseph Daly, professor emeritus at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law, called the sentence “severe, given that Hanson had no criminal record.” But he said the conviction and sentence was “justified, as it endangers the health of so many people.”

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