Center owner drops counterclaims

Local News

The owner of a Winnebago events center who was sued by the Attorney General’s Office has dropped his counterclaims against the state.

A Zoom hearing scheduled Tuesday in Faribault County District Court was canceled after Garth Carlson withdrew the claims.

“In my client’s realization, he is simply one man against the entire state of Minnesota and needs to conserve resources,” Carlson’s attorney Jason Kohlmeyer told Judge Troy Timmerman.

In his claims, Carlson cites he suffered defamation and financial losses when the state filed a lawsuit against him for planning a New Year’s Eve Party in violation of the governor’s shutdown order during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to the court, Carlson’s attorney says publicity of the lawsuit have damaged his client’s reputation and it has interfered with his ability to collect donations.

Timmerman issued a temporary restraining order and the event was not held. Now, the judge has issued a new injunction.

In court documents, Carlson’s attorney contends the governor’s executive order is unconstitutional and not evenly enforced.

Carlson says the event advertised as a “New Year Eve dance” was a religious gathering exempt from the governor’s order.

“I never had and have no plans to host an event in violation of the law or executive orders,” Carlson says in an affidavit.

In a March order, Timmerman says Carlson’s arguments are “unpersuasive.”

The state’s lawsuit is based on social media advertisements appearing to be promoting the dance with a live band.

According to court documents, the ads listed a $25 fee to attend, the letters “B.Y.O.B,” and words in Spanish that translate to “you can bring your own beer or liquor.”

Carlson claims he was asked to host a Hispanic religious gathering and believed the event was in compliance with the executive order.

The $25 admission fee was a donation in lieu of charging a rental fee, says Carlson, and he did not look over the advertisement closely before sharing it on social media.

Carlson says he developed a COVID-19 preparedness plan required by the state for businesses and organizations allowed to operate during the shutdown.

But, Carlson has not “submitted any evidence whatsoever detailing what made the planned event itself religious in nature,” says Timmerman’s order.

The judge’s order requires Carlson to produce a copy of the preparedness plan within 30 days.

On challenges regarding the constitutionality of the executive order restrictions, the judge says Carlson has not met any legal threshold.

The court has not yet scheduled the next hearing date in the case.

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