Owner of The Interchange suing city attorney, governor, others

Published 3:39 pm Monday, March 15, 2021

The owner of The Interchange Wine & Coffee Bistro has filed four lawsuits in Freeborn County District Court against multiple people and entities, including Gov. Tim Walz, the city of Albert Lea and Albert Lea’s city attorney, among others. 

The lawsuits came to light Monday when restaurant owner Lisa Hanson announced in a news release she is suing Albert Lea’s city attorney, whom she claims has overstepped her bounds of authority and abused the power of her office. The release stated City Attorney Kelly Martinez pursued “personal and overzealous prosecution against Hanson to ‘teach Lisa Hanson a lesson about who has the power in the city of Albert Lea.’”

“As the prosecutor for the city of Albert Lea, Martinez’s goal was not justice — it was to inflict the maximum amount of damage allowed by law against me and my business,” Hanson said in the release.

Martinez is included in each of the four lawsuits. The other suits include people such as agents with the state, a city detective and District Court Judges Steve Schwab, Ross Leuning and Joseph Bueltel. The city is named on all but one of the suits, and the state is named on all but one as well.

The suits question Walz’s ability to make executive orders regarding the private affairs of people or businesses and question the agents ability to come into her business for purpose of enforcing the emergency order. The suits also question Martinez’s ability to bring criminal charges by the city on behalf of the state.

Hanson is facing civil litigation through the state of Minnesota for reopening her business for in-person dining in defiance of the governor’s orders and also faces nine criminal counts filed by the city, including eight misdemeanor counts of violating an emergency powers or rule and one misdemeanor public nuisance charge.

The Interchange Wine & Coffee Bistro owner Lisa Hanson speaks to a crowd in January during a protest outside the Freeborn County courthouse. Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

In previous interviews, Hanson has said the matter is one of Constitutional rights and that she will continue to fight for those rights, not only for herself but for others across the state and nation.

The release states she is seeking monetary damages in excess of $34 million.

Look for more information about this story as it develops.

An email to Martinez has not yet been returned.