Jury Selection Finishes in Albert Lea Criminal Trial of Minnesota Small Business Owner Lisa Hanson


ALBERT LEA, Minnesota – The jury selection finished in the criminal trial of Melissa “Lisa” Hanson on Tuesday evening, after a full day of interviews. Hanson, who is not an attorney, is representing herself. Hanson and the City Attorney Kelly Martinez chose six jurors to serve and two back up jurors.

Hanson is being charged with a total of nine misdemeanors for opening her Albert Lea restaurant, the Interchange, in violation of Governor Tim Walz’s COVID orders. Six of the misdemeanors are being addressed in this trial. Every one of the six misdemeanors is a violation of emergency orders, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine per charge.

Martinez filed a motion, approved by the judge, to prosecute Hanson for three of the nine misdemeanors in a second trial. The other three misdemeanors include two more counts of a violation of emergency orders and one count of being a public nuisance. Those three charges, which will be tried at a later date, are also punishable by 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Before calling the first potential jurors in for questioning, Hanson and Martinez had a disagreement about a question that Martinez wished the court to address with the jury. Martinez told the judge, Joseph Bueltel, that she wanted him to ask the jurors if they “patronized the Interchange [Hanson’s restaurant] between December 2020 and February 2021,” because if any of them were present, they were a “witness to a crime.”

Hanson vehemently objected to Martinez’s suggestion, saying that she objected to her terminology, calling it “accusatorial.” Hanson also argued that adding that question to those that the court would be asking would be adding to the jury instructions. Bueltel said that while he agreed any potential juror who was in Hanson’s establishment during that time period would be a “witness,” he would not ask that question due to timeliness, since that was not part of the jury instructions when they were finalized.

Martinez also asked that since the case got a substantial amount of media attention, that each potential juror be questioned about their exposure to media coverage individually, which the judge denied.

Jury selection took place throughout the entire day, with two separate jury pools. The jury pools were questioned by the presiding judge, Martinez, and Hanson. Bueltel began the jury selection process, after swearing them in, by reading the potential jurors a statement which he titled “implicit unconscious bias.”

Martinez attempted to get the entire first jury pool thrown out after accusing Hanson of communicating with her assistant and husband who were seated in the courtroom. She made an unsubstantiated claim that a source had told her that Hanson was “smirking and moving her mouth” during the court proceedings.

The judge, prosecution, and defense struck a total of 10 jurors from the two jury pools on cause. The eight selected jurors will appear in court Wednesday morning for the first day of arguments in Hanson’s case.

The case is Melissa Hanson v. the State of Minnesota, No. 24-CR-21-137 in Freeborn County District Court, Minnesota.

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Hayley Feland is a reporter with The Minnesota Sun and The Wisconsin Daily Star | Star News Network. Follow Hayley on Twitter or like her Facebook page. Send news tips to [email protected].
Photo “Jury Box” by Patrick Feller. CC BY 2.0.






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