Attorney General Keith Ellison's office on Wednesday filed another lawsuit against a Minnesota business it says is defying Gov. Tim Walz's order to stay closed in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19.
This time, the allegation is that the Carlson Event Center & Country Chapel in Winnebago is unabashedly planning a New Year's Eve bash.
Problem is, owner Garth Carlson said, Ellison's got it all wrong.
"He doesn't know what he's talking about," Carlson said. "It's not a party. It's not a bash. It's a religious gathering."
According to a statement from Ellison's office, the Carlson Event Center "has advertised that it will hold a 'New Year's Eve Bash' on December 31, 2020, into the early morning hours of January 1, 2021, in violation" of Walz's order.
The advertisement "indicates that it will be hosting a 'big New Year's dance,' urging attendees to bring their own beer and liquor," a statement from Ellison's office said. The Attorney General's Office was unsuccessful in reaching the business, according to the statement.
Reached Wednesday, Garth Carlson sounded surprised.
"I don't know what he's talking about," he said. "He's speculating on something that hasn't happened."
When asked if there was an event planned for New Year's Eve, Carlson said it is going to be a religious gathering with items for sale. He didn't deny that there was an advertisement for the event. Rather, he said, the event was "misworded" in the advertisement.
Carlson, who said he planned to contact his attorney, criticized Ellison's office for sending notice of the lawsuit to the news media.
Ellison "just likes to blow things up for publicity," he said.
Ellison's office included what it said was an advertisement for the event in the complaint it filed Wednesday in Faribault County District Court. It makes no mention of a religious service or gathering.
The ad does, however, refer to a "New Year's Eve Bash." It also displays a picture of a five-man band wearing leather coats and cowboy hats, as well as illustrations of a bucket of beer on ice with the letters "b.y.o.b." beneath it and photo illustrations of a couple of women in tight clothing.
At the top of the ad are the words "all ages welcome," along with the cost to attend: $25.
In November, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Walz issued an executive order that prohibited in-person dining in restaurants, as well as temporarily closing venues that host indoor events and entertainment. Walz recently extended that order until Jan. 11.
"Performance venues, like many other businesses, have been hurting during this pandemic. I'm glad to see efforts like the recently passed Minnesota aid package and the Minnesota-born national Save Our Stages Act are out there helping these businesses make it through this challenging time," Ellison said in a statement. "By far the vast majority of indoor venues have been complying with the law all along. But when a business irresponsibly opens to the public to throw a dance party, their insistence on violating the law is simply prolonging the pain of the pandemic for everyone."
Later Wednesday afternoon, Ellison's office requested a temporary restraining order against the Carlson Event Center.
The event center is the 11th Minnesota business that Ellison has filed suit against for defying Walz's order. In those 10 previous cases, the attorney general has sought and obtained nine temporary restraining orders from the courts, reaffirming Walz's authority to order businesses to temporarily close.
James Walsh • 612-673-7428