May 28, 2024

Court decision on Westrom’s District 12 residency appealed

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Reed Anfinson

Though it appeared the challenge to Sen. Torrey Westrom’s residency in the new District 12 was settled, it’s not.

An appeal has been filed by Appleton attorney Brian Wojtalewicz, who represented one of the petitioners in the challenge to Westrom’s residency.

Appellate Court Judge Diane B. Bratvold ruled Aug. 30 that Westrom had met the state’s standards for establishing residency in the district. But her ruling added a comment that is now being cited in the appeal.

“In sum, the evidence Westrom presented to support his claim that he now resides in Senate District 12 is not overwhelming,” Bratvold wrote. “Still, the evidence establishes by a preponderance that Westrom has resided at the Lake Mary property since May 7, 2022, given the short period of time he had to move after redistricting changed the boundaries for Senate District 12.” 

“Thus, Westrom has satisfied the residency requirement to run for senator in Senate District 12,” Bratvold concluded.

Ashley Klingbeil, an independent candidate running for the new District 12 Senate seat, and supporter Christine Fischer submitted a petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court Aug. 8 asking Westrom be taken off the Nov. 8 ballot. They claimed he had not established residency in the district.

Klingbeil, of Alexandria, is a conservative running under the party label “We the People.” Fischer, who lives in Glenwood, is a supporter and helped her gather the information they believe established Westrom did not prove legal residency. Their evidence included photographs of a property on Lake Mary that looked abandoned.

Westrom had been living in the City of Elbow Lake for years. However, when the state’s legislative districts were redrawn earlier this year based on the 2020 Census, Westrom found much of his former district shifted to the south leaving him in the new District 9, which contained little of his former district and a constituency who knew him.

Rather than run in a District where he was not well known, Westrom announced he would move into the new District 12.

When filing an affidavit of candidacy for the Minnesota Senate, a candidate certifies that he or she will be a resident of “this district for six months on the day of the general or special election.” May 8 was the deadline for establishing residency for the Nov. 8 general election. The requirement is stated in the state’s Constitution under Article IV, Section 6, Wojtalewicz has pointed out.

Wojtalewicz joined the case on behalf of Murdock resident Victoria Guillemard, who was also challenging Westrom’s residency.

Wojtalewicz filed the appeal for Guillemard who says the evidence is clear Westrom has not established residency in the new District 12. He expects a quick decision by the Supreme Court on the appeal considering how quickly the Nov. 8 election is approaching.

In referring to Bratvold’s comment on Westrom’s less than “overwhelming” proof of residency in the district, Wojtalewicz writes in the appeal that “this conclusion was reached apparently without consideration of some key evidence of the hearing.”

As evidence that Westrom hasn’t established residency, the following evidence was submitted: 

– Photos taken in July of the property clearly show that weeds are “growing right out of the lower door sill.” Weeds are also growing through the patio and stepstones, and photos show a lawn that hasn’t been maintained for weeks.

– He points out that the residential property’s electric bill for one summer month was only $75. A family of two adults and three teenagers would certainly have a higher monthly electric bill, Wojtalewicz says. “This defies credulity and common sense,” he writes.

– There was no evidence of forwarded mail to the new address despite Westrom’s claim he had quickly set up a forwarding address with the post office in May. He did provide six envelopes that he said were forwarded to his new residence, but these represented a three-month period and none had a forwarding yellow tag used by the post office, the appeal says.

Further, Anna Westrom testified that she was unaware of a forwarding account set up by her husband. Anna Westrom went on to testify that they received no mail at their Elbow Lake residence, that it all went to their bookkeeper. 

– Photos that had been submitted with children in them in the new house on Lake Mary, that he claimed were taken in “June, or July, or August, were obviously taken at one sham sitting after late July,” Wojtalewicz says in the appeal. 

– He also points out that there was no kitchen stove, washer or dryer in the new home that the Westroms were supposed to be living in. 

– During testimony before Bratvold, Wojtalewicz said Westrom admitted three websites over which he had control continued to carry his Elbow Lake address despite saying he had changed his residency to the Lake Mary residence near Alexandria. One was the Minnesota Senate web page, and two with the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board. It, Wojtalewicz said, requires the legal address of candidates.

While Westrom acknowledged that there were websites listing his Elbow Lake house as his residence, he was not in charge of changing those websites himself.


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