Eight days after John A. Lovely, an Albert Lea lawyer, lost the election for congress in 1886, the Mower County Transcript published a story that he was drunk the night of the election. Lovely immediately swore out a criminal libel complaint against Charles H. Davidson, the editor of the paper. Shortly after this, Charles W. Levens, the superintendent of county schools, wrote a personal letter to the editor of the Spring Valley Vidette making similar allegations. Levens's letter was presented to the grand jury, which returned indictments for criminal libel against Davidson and Levens.
Levens was tried first, found guilty and paid a $100 fine imposed by Judge John Q. Farmer. The charge against Davidson was dismissed.
Topping the list of unusual events in these cases is John Lovely's retention of Charles D. Kerr, a prominent Minneapolis attorney, to "assist" in the prosecutions of the defendants. The Minnesota Supreme Court approved the employment of private lawyers in criminal prosecutions in State v. Rue, 72 Minn. 296, 75 N.W. 235 (1898). It held that the decision whether to permit a private prosecutor was "discretionary with the trial court." In State Ex Rel. Wild v. Otis, 257 N.W.2d 361 (1977), however, the Supreme Court held that a private citizen may not start and maintain a private prosecution for alleged violations of the criminal code. It may be that private prosecutors were more widely employed than previously recognized in Minnesota in the 19th century---still another subject for future legal historians in this state.