The first court hearing for the South Washington County Schools ISD 833’s contest election of referendum ballot Question 2 ($96 million bond) happened at the Washington County 10th Judicial District Court in Stillwater at 8:30am on Friday, December 18, 2015.
Each side was supposed to argue motions filed with the court on a number of issues: the school district’s attorneys filed a motion for dismissal (“summary judgement”) and a motion requiring the Plaintiffs, Susan Richardson, Leilani Holmstadt and Andrea Mayer-Bruestle, to pay a $9.3 million surety bond. Erick Kaardal, attorney for the plaintiffs, had also filed a motion to allow a forensic document expert to examine the ballots.
None of the motions were heard. Instead, Judge Greg Galler announced to the court that though this was an “interesting case; most of the stuff we do here isn’t really that interesting…” that he and the other 10th District Judges would have to recuse themselves from hearing the case because Annette Fritz, a member of the school district’s Canvassing Board, is also an employee of the court, specifically, the Washington County Court Administrator. And as such, she is a direct employee of all the judges on the 10th District bench. Judge Galler explained that all the judges have a role in hiring the court administrator. He did not realize she was part of the case until the afternoon of Thursday, Dec. 17, but when he did realize it, he knew he must recuse himself from the case.
Having all the 10th District judges recused means that a new judge from outside the district will have to be assigned. It also means that the January 4, 2016 trial date will be changed, pending the assignment of a judge.
About 20 community members attended the court hearing along with the three plaintiffs and Attorney Kaardal. ISD 833 School Board member and Vote Yes 833 committee chair, Michelle Witte, attended with the attorneys for District 833. Among the community members supporting the plaintiffs was GOP District 2 congressional candidate, David Gerson.
After the hearing, the plaintiffs, community members and Attorney Erick Kaardal discussed the new developments and the case: “This is the most important case in the state right now,” Attorney Erick Kaardal said, because public officials are supposed to be “setting the model for every one else” when it comes to following the law. “It’s the citizens’ job to make sure the government is following the law – in this case, the school district,” said Plaintiff Leilani Holmstadt.
Plaintiff Susan Richardson, Treasurer of the South Washington Citizens for Progress committee and Vice Chair of the Minnesota Voters Alliance added, “Minnesota doesn’t disenfranchise voters. When they (voters) go to the polls on Election Day, the law states we must count their vote. The canvassing board and the district are choosing to disregard state law.”
When asked about pursuing the case, Kaardal answered, “The school district has been informed multiple times that the ballots are ‘No’ votes according to the law, and the district persists in its illegalities.”