An Albert Lea bistro owner who was sentenced to three months in prison plus a $1000 fine for violating the Minnesota COVID-19 state mandate will file a federal lawsuit.
Lisa Hanson, 57, defied Governor Tim Waltz’s executive order on COVID-19 by keeping her Interchange Wine and Beer Bistro business open, serving alcoholic beverages indoors through November and December 2020 during the state-imposed lockdown — a decision that brought her on a collision course with Chief District Judge Joseph Bueltel.
Hanson, who defended herself in court during her three-day trial from Dec. 8 to 10 at the Freeborn County courthouse, was charged with six criminal misdemeanor counts each of which came with a $1,000 fine and 90 days in prison.
The restaurant owner while receiving legal aid from the National Taskforce, an independent nonprofit body of legal advisors, mainly invoked her constitutional rights during trial. However, all of her attempts to do so were brushed off by Bueltel, calling her pleas without merit or in violation of law or court procedure.
Defying the COVID mandate
Judge Bueltel, who did little to conceal his personal animosity towards Hanson on at least three occasions, insinuated she “only wanted to make money” while others had to shut down during the pandemic and that she thereby had jeopardized the health of others.
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“You don’t get to decide you’re governor,” Bueltel berated Hanson, according to the Star Tribune. “You don’t have that role. You were a public risk. You kept your business open. … You were making money while suckers down the street closed.”
Hanson, in her closing argument, opposed the judge lamenting “the abusive exercise of government authority” and “the overreach of an overzealous government.”
It took the jury one hour to unanimously declare Hanson guilty on all six counts and the prosecutor demanded a $500 fine and ten days imprisonment.
Hanson said she was “a good person.” “I don’t need a fine,” she said. “I don’t need to go to jail. I need to be with my family.”
How the judge sentenced
But for judge Bueltel the prosecutor’s requests didn’t go far enough. “You don’t want to recognize our law. I want to reinforce that the law does apply to you,” he said. “I want to send a message to the community that executive orders are law,” as he handed down an even stronger sentence of a $1,000 fine and 90 days imprisonment.
When Hanson asked the judge to explain how such sentencing would work in practice, he said, “You’re your own counsel, so figure it out.”
Keith Haskell, of the National Task Force who assisted Hanson during the process, was furious over the verdict and even more so over judge Bueltel’s unprofessional behavior in the courtroom.
Haskell indicated their team would push for the disbarment of Judge Joseph Bueltel and Albert Lea Prosecutor Kelly Martinez while saying the whole show was a blatant sample of “prosecutor misconduct, judiciary misconduct,” KeyC News reported.
“I’d even go as far as to say judiciary tyranny, “ Haskell said. “This was a railroad job and I can prove it on paper,” he said, adding, “We just decided to fight fire with fire.”
“Lisa is actually in good spirits,” Haskell said. When she left the courtroom, her last words were ‘freedom and liberty for all,’” he said, adding that, “…We talked about possibilities, she said, ‘hey, no matter what, I’m going to hold my head high.’”
Haskell said he was hoping to grant the Hanson family “the best Christmas present they’ve ever had,” hinting at the imminent filing of her case in the Federal Courts in St. Paul.