Minnesota Bistro Owner Sentenced With 90 Days in Jail and $1,000 Fine For Defying COVID Lockdown Order

The owner of a wine and coffee bar in Minnesota was sentenced Thursday to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for violating Minnesota’s COVID-19 lockdown orders last fall.

Melissa (Lisa) Hanson, 57, owner of the Interchange Wine and Coffee Bistro in Albert Lea, was accused of willfully violating Democrat Gov. Timothy Walz’s executive orders, which prohibited serving alcohol indoors. When the second shutdown in the city was announced in November of 2020, the struggling business owner decided to keep her bistro open in protest.

Judge Joseph Bueltel was unable to conceal his “personal animus” toward Hanson, ruthlessly berating her after she was found guilty on all six counts against her, according to the Minnesota Sun.

“You were a public risk because you kept your business open,” the judge claimed. Until her defiance of the lockdown orders, Hanson had never been in any kind of trouble with the law.

Nonetheless, Bueltel reportedly compared Hanson to a “career criminal and a drug or alcohol offender,” and said an appropriate sentence would keep Hanson from defying the law again, and to stop others from following suit.

“You sure played them for the fool, didn’t you?” he added. “You just wanted to make money during a global pandemic.”

Hanson represented herself sui juris, meaning she had full legal capacity to act on her own behalf.

“You don’t want to recognize our law,” Bueltel continued. “I want to reinforce that the law does apply to you. I want to send a message to the community that executive orders are law.”

Buetel reportedly asked prosecuting Attorney Kelly Martinez for her sentencing recommendation.

Martinez told the judge that Hanson had failed to appear in court in the past and has shown egregious bad faith during the trial. The attorney also said that Hanson believes the law does not apply to her, and she has engaged in unlawful conduct to this day, therefore her wine and coffee bistro was an ongoing public safety risk.

Martinez said her recommendation was that the court sentence Hanson to 10 days in jail, a $500 fine, paying the court fees – as well as ordering her to shut down a farewell celebration that some local supporters had planned to take place on Thursday evening at the former location of The Interchange. Martinez also requested that the court give Hanson a one-year probationary period.

In response, Hanson argued that Martinez was wrong about her showing bad faith in the legal process.

Hanson said she had shown up for every court date, with the exception of a single date for which she had not received the court summons.

During a “Stand For Liberty” event in Albert Lea after she had been arrested, last summer, Hanson explained that she had received a notice from the court, but not a summons.

“There was no summons and complaint,” Hanson told KARE 11.

“Yes, I did have the date and the time, but that didn’t compel me into the court, right?” she added. “That was just basically an announcement, or an invitation.”

According to Hanson, she exercised due diligence in waiting for the summons to arrive, but it never did.

“I watched for a summons and complaint,” she said. “I watched on the court docket, I watched on my email, I watched USPS mail, I was not personally served.”

During her court appearance Thursday, Hanson also objected to the claim that she was a public safety risk, noting that she is as a first-time offender, so jail time is not appropriate for her. “There’s no reason to put a person like me behind bars. Just because I have a passion for liberty and freedom doesn’t mean I should be put behind bars,” she said.

Martinez reportedly told the judge that Hanson’s statements were “unequivocally false.”

When Hanson asked for a more detailed explanation of the sentencing, Bueltel barked: “You’re your own counsel, so figure it out.”

Hanson has yet to be tried for the remaining three misdemeanors, two additional counts of violating emergency orders, and one count of public nuisance. Hanson could spend up to nine months in jail and be fined an additional $3,000 for those charges.

Hanson reportedly raised her hand and cried, “Liberty and freedom” as she was led away by deputies following the sentencing.

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About Debra Heine

Debra Heine is a conservative Catholic mom of six and longtime political pundit. She has written for several conservative news websites over the years, including Breitbart and PJ Media.

Photo: Image courtesy of The Interchange's Facebook page.