The Minnesota Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a late challenge to Sen. Gene Dornink’s residency, in which the author of the complaint alleged the first-term senator didn’t live within the newly created District 23.
Dornink was elected senator of District 27 in 2020, and is slated to face off against opponent Lisa Hanson Aug. 9 in the Republican primary for the newly formed seat, though a petition filed last week by Glenville resident Judy Olson with the Minnesota Supreme Court asked to remove Dornink from the ballot, alleging he does not live in Brownsdale and still resides in Hayfield, which is now outside of District 23.
“I’m grateful the court dismissed this baseless case so quickly,” Dornink said in a statement Friday. “I appreciate the support from so many who reached out to me through this process. I will continue running a positive, issue-oriented campaign. I look forward to winning the primary this Tuesday and the general election in November.”
A response to the petition filed by Dornink’s lawyers, R. Rield LeBeau II and Benjamin N. Pachito earlier this week, stated the court should dismiss the petition under laches — an unreasonable delay in asserting a known legal right or claim — being that it was filed 12 days before the primary election, 35 days after absentee balloting began and 65 days after Dornink filed for office.
“Petitioner’s unreasonable delay in filing her petition has caused significant prejudice to Senator Dornink, who resides in the district and has been engaged in extensive campaign activity since redistricting lines were released,” the response stated.
The order to dismiss, signed by Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea, said the court agreed to dismiss the case on laches grounds.
“We have acknowledged that ‘some’ delay in filing a petition challenging a candidate’s residency ‘may be excused’ because the challenger needs to know more than where the candidate claims to be residing and instead needs to investigate and gather evidence to prove that the candidate is not residing in the district,” the court stated. “The record here, however, indicates that (petitioner) did not act expeditiously or diligently in conducting her investigation.”
Although the petitioner, Judy Kay Olson, and the others included in the petition made two visits to the Brownsdale property within four days of Dornink filing his candidacy on May 24, they waited 18 days to visit again, it stated. Then after visiting June 15 and 16, they waited another month, or until July 15 to make their last visit.
“Because there were long periods in which Olson and her associates did nothing to investigate, the delay in conducting the investigation was unreasonable,” the court stated.
The court also concluded that because ballots had already been printed and early voting for the primary started more than a month ago, substantial prejudice would result from ordering Dornink’s name be removed from the ballots.
Freeborn County GOP Party Chairman Robert Hoffman, who was also Dornink’s Realtor, said the petition has tainted Hanson’s Senate campaign, changing it from “relevant and respected to desperate and out of control.”
“Lisa has no more control of this current campaign than she did her legal battles that landed her in jail, and she used the same team for both,” he said. “It is ridiculous what their campaign has done.”
He said what the campaign has done will forever haunt her politically.
“Sen. Gene Dornink needs to only be spoken with for five minutes to know that you get 24 hours of honesty out of him on any given day,” Hoffman said. “The reelection of Sen. Gene Dornink, especially after so many successes in a short two years serving, is exactly what our region needs here in southern Minnesota.”
Hanson in response to the decision pointed out that the court only dismissed the case based on “laches” — or timing — and not on the merits of the case, and she said the decision now opens the way for Democrats or others to challenge his residency.
“Let’s be honest, Dornink is damaged goods,” she said. “With the evidence of the petition being unchallenged how can Dornink be trusted?”
She said she has resided in Freeborn County for more than 30 years and has proven she is willing to stand up and protect the Constitutional rights and liberties of all Americans. To ensure a Republican candidate takes office and secures the Senate majority, she said there is only one option in the upcoming primary and that is to vote for her for Senate.