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Lake Park Mayor pleads not guilty to driving after revocation, attorney could be disqualified from the case

Lake Park Mayor Aaron Wittnebel pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor driving after revocation charge Monday morning.

Wittnebel, who has had his license revoked since 2010 when he was convicted of DWI in Clay County, appeared before Becker County District Judge Joe Evans, who set a pre-trial hearing for Sept. 15.

Although the charge is typically considered a minor offense, this one has a lot of people wondering if it could have much greater implications.

Wittnebel is on probation for a felony conviction of financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult for mishandling finances for his sister, who has Down’s syndrome and for whom he was a guardian and conservator.

It will be up to the judge overseeing the case — District Judge Sally Robertson, who is chambered in Wadena — as to whether or not a misdemeanor conviction means Wittnebel violated the terms of his probarion. 

To do so could mean prison time for the mayor and an avenue for the city of Lake Park to oust Wittnebel from office.

On Monday, Assistant County Attorney Kevin Miller also filed a motion to have Wittnebel’s attorney, Joe Irby of Detroit Lakes, disqualified to serve as counsel in this case because Irby was named in the complaint.

According to court documents, the car Wittnebel was allegedly driving belongs to Irby.

The conflict of interest would come because Irby would be both counsel and material witness in the case.

The motion filed Monday afternoon alleges that five days after Lake Park Police Chief Jay Nelson reported witnessing Wittnebel driving Irby’s car, Wittnebel left a message on Miller’s voicemail denying that he was driving and made other allegations regarding the police chief.

However, on Friday, Detroit Lakes Police Sgt. Robert Strand gave a statement that he had asked Irby about the incident, to which Irby responded he had not known at the time that Wittnebel’s license was revoked.

The motion also claims that when law enforcement went to speak to Irby to obtain a formal statement about the incident, Irby claimed attorney-client privilege.

The motion asking that Wittnebel be required to find other legal counsel is expected to be resolved before his Sept. 15 hearing.