Jury finds Albert Lea business owner guilty on all counts

Published 6:20 pm Friday, December 10, 2021

Judge sentences to 90 days


The owner of The Interchange Wine & Coffee Bistro was sentenced to 90 days in jail Thursday afternoon for opening up her business for in-person dining in defiance of state executive orders put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The sentence, by Judge Joseph Bueltel, came after a six-member jury deliberated for about one hour and found restaurant owner Lisa Hanson guilty on six misdemeanor counts of violating an emergency executive order.

Hanson, who represented herself in the case, was remanded to the custody of the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office.

Bueltel, before issuing his sentencing, said Walz’s executive orders had the “full force and effect of law” and talked about the state statute that was followed for the orders to be put in place.

He said the orders, first enacted in November 2020, were put in place because of the public safety concern of COVID-19. There was an uptick in cases and no vaccine available to people. He said protection came from staying apart from each other, wearing masks and following these orders. He noted that “significant” people have died during the pandemic.

“You got to understand the law applies to you,” Bueltel said. “You were a public risk because you kept your business open.”

He said Hanson was able to “roll in the dough” while others down the street closed their businesses in compliance with the orders. He referenced other business owners or close relatives of business owners who were in the group of potential jurors who were dismissed because of how they were affected during that time.

“They did the right thing and prevented the public risk,” he said. “You did the exact opposite and cashed in when you could.”

He said he did not think Hanson could be rehabilitated in ways that some other defendants might be able to.

“I think you’re a political protester,” he said. “You knowingly and willingly violated the law to make a point.”

He noted, however, that Hanson had other options to make her point, namely getting both the state House and Senate to vote to end the executive orders. He said his real concern was that Hanson didn’t want to recognize the law and that it applies to her.

Bueltel said his decision to send Hanson to jail was the only way he felt he could get his point across to Hanson and send a message to the community. Hanson before and during the trial has tried to argue that the executive orders were not law and that they were unconstitutional.

Prior to his sentencing City Attorney Kelly Martinez had argued Hanson spend 10 days in jail and that the remaining 80 days be stayed, along with a $500 fine plus court costs. She also had asked the judge to prohibit The Interchange’s farewell Christmas event that was slated for Thursday evening.

Martinez said despite the risks and education provided to Hanson about COVID-19, she chose to defy the law, and she said she still believed Hanson was an ongoing public safety risk and would not be amenable to probation.

Hanson argued she has not operated her business since Feb. 9 though she has continued to pay rent and utilities even with it being closed. She asked the judge to consider that she didn’t have a record other than possibly a few speeding tickets and the arrest tied to this case when she had not appeared for a hearing. She said she did not think it was appropriate for someone of her nature to be put in jail and said she tries to live a good, honest life.

“There’s no reason to put a person like me behind bars. …” she said. “Just because I have a passion for liberty and freedom I don’t think that’s any reason to put anyone behind bars.”

She said she also has three grandchildren who will soon be born.

The judge issued a 90-day sentence to be spent concurrently on each of the counts. The counts represented different dates the business was open in December 2020 and January 2021. Hanson will also be required to pay a $1,000 fine plus court costs.

Martinez after the sentencing declined to comment pending Hanson’s other criminal case with three counts that is still pending. In that case she faces two counts of violating an emergency executive order and one count of public nuisance.

Keith Haskell, state coordinator with the National Action Task Force, who assisted Hanson in preparing her case for trial, said he was surprised in some ways with how fast the jury came back with a verdict, but in other ways he wasn’t surprised because of how much evidence he said the judge would not let in for the case.

He said Hanson had asked Bueltel be recused from the case because of his interpretation of some laws and his refusal to look at other laws.

“We have the right in this country to say that there’s bias within our court system before we get to this point,” Haskell said. “We also have the right in the system to say there was bias in the courtroom after.”

He also questioned how the governor decided which businesses could be open and why The Interchange’s owner was the only person to be charged criminally in the state with violations.

He said Hanson plans to appeal the conviction and also referenced paperwork that was slated to be filed in federal court on Friday.