I’m going to be honest: this is the sort of juicy, hilarious trainwreck of a race that I love blogging about. Or at least Michelle’s half of it is; David Lillehaug is thoroughly respectable and has been endorsed by loads of people on both sides. So if you’re really only reading these to get a list of who to vote for, just make sure you vote for David Lillehaug. If you’re not actually in Minnesota anyway and read these because election drama can be so entertaining, go pop yourself some popcorn because you are in for a SHOW.
MICHELLE L. MACDONALD
(I’m going to use the “More” tag to try to cut this, because it’s long.)
Back at the end of May, Michelle went to the Republican state convention in Rochester and requested endorsement for her run against David Lillehaug. Apparently I was wrong about both parties doing endorsements — the GOP does, the DFL doesn’t, and that’s been true since 1998. The judicial endorsements are handled by a small committee, which makes a recommendation to the full convention.
And apparently they liked Michelle, because they recommended her for endorsement. She gave a speech that involved waving a Bible around as a prop and featuring the closing line “and let’s ALL ask God to bless America again” and got the endorsement of the full convention.
What the Judicial Committee knew but the general mass of delegates plus the state party chair did not was that Michelle had been charged with drunk driving and resisting arrest after an incident in April 2013. Michelle was pulled over at about 11 p.m. for speeding by a Rosemount police officer who then smelled alcohol from her car. She refused to take a Breathalyzer test or any other field sobriety test, insisting that the law said she only had to do it in the presence of a judge.
She did eventually take a privately administered blood test at 4:30 a.m. I do not actually know whether you could have a blood alcohol level of .08 at 11 p.m. and an undetectable blood alcohol level four hours later, though in the normal course of events you can be drunk as a skunk at one point and sober at some later point, which is precisely why you are required to take the sobriety test right away. At her trial in September, she was convicted of refusing to take a sobriety test and of obstructing the legal process but acquitted of DWI. Her conviction was for a gross misdemeanor, not a felony; I am not sure whether this disqualifies her to serve as a judge. The very first line of the code of judicial conduct is, “Rule 1.1: Compliance with the Law: A judge shall comply with the law, including the Code of Judicial Conduct.” But, she’s not a judge yet. Soooooooo, I don’t know.
Anyway. She was endorsed in May; in mid-June, the Star Tribune turned up the drunk driving charges and called the party for comment. (“Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME? PLEASE tell me this is actually my friend Steve messing with me, and not the Star Tribune,” State Republican Party Chairman Keith Downney did not say, but was probably thinking, when the Star Tribune called him up. What he actually said: “None of us, including the convention delegates, were aware of this information about the candidate. She, of course, is innocent until proven guilty, but at the same time, the delegates did not have the full disclosure they should have.”)
She showed up anyway, and was ejected by a “conflicts solution person” (best euphemism for “bouncer” ever?). When she returned later, an unflappable guy in a Twins t-shirt and an older male volunteer who wouldn’t give his last name blockaded her from coming back in, and insisted that she step onto the sidewalk. “This is private property,” the older guy says about twenty times, which seems like an argument that ought to work on someone who made property rights central to her campaign, but nope. If you watch all the way to the end, the police show up.
In this delightfully straightforward timeline (essential reading for anyone who would like to spend some additional time basking in the schadenfreude), Keith Downey makes it clear that he really wishes Michelle MacDonald would get eaten by bears or something (okay, okay, not eaten by bears. If she could suddenly experience a profound religious experience, take a vow of silence, and move to somewhere a long way from Minnesota, though, that would be AWESOME. What he actually said: “Michelle MacDonald is our endorsed candidate. Period. Since her endorsement however, new information about her legal and judicial philosophy and personal legal issues have been disclosed which the delegates did not know about when they voted for her endorsement. … In addition her campaign has raised $120 (not a typo) and has not signed up for data center access calling into question the seriousness of her campaign effort. … Unfortunately, this whole episode and her candidacy is undermining the conservative argument for electing judges and judicial restraint and is calling into question the merit of endorsing judicial candidates.”)
So that’s really quite a bit of information, but bear with me: that is just the beginning of the Michelle MacDonald rabbit hole.
There was a really bizarre incident back in 2013 involving Michelle MacDonald, a child custody case, and Dakota County Judge David Knutson. After a lot of hunting, I found this reasonably neutral account of what happened. (The super-detailed version of Michelle’s side is available starting on page 5 of this letter.) I’m going to try to sum up. The child custody case involves a mother named Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and a father named David Rucki; things had gotten so ugly that Judge Knutson had removed the children from both parents. (Assuming I read it right, Grazzini-Rucki says Rucki is abusive; he says this is a lie she’s telling to try to alienate the children from him. I have no idea what the truth is here but from the POV of evaluating Michelle’s actions, it doesn’t really matter.)
Michelle was representing Grazzini-Rucki in Judge Knutson’s courtroom. During a break, she decided to take pictures of the courtroom. A court bailiff informed Michelle that she was being issued a misdemeanor citation for taking pictures in court. According to the transcript, the bailiff stated, “I went up to her during break, told her she was under arrest for the offense of Contempt of Court, told her that she was not going to be handcuffed, we just needed her name, date of birth and address for the ticket and she’d be released. She has refused. She is still refusing.”
The letter with the long pro-Michelle version (I don’t actually know who wrote it) says that during a break:
Sheriff’s deputies approached them and took Michelle to the adjacent jail area. It was learned later that earlier in the day, in secret, and in the back hallways, Knutson and deputies had arranged an illegal search and seizure directed at Michelle, who (as an attorney) is an officer of the court. They took her camera because she had taken a photograph of a deputy, who had posed for the picture, while the court was not in session. In the back area, the deputies intimidated Michelle by repeatedly asking her name, to which she repeatedly responded: “you know my name.” She also questioned deputies as to who put them up to this and what was going on. When Michelle began to cry and call out for her husband, Tom, the deputies taunted her, saying that they were “crocodile tears.”
Apparently there’s video, which Michelle obtained, but elected not to either watch or release. (“I did watch a little yesterday because I was going to make copies and put it in the Supreme Court [case],” she told MinnLawyer, “but then I thought I better not do that. I really don’t want the other side to see the video.”)
Michelle says that she was stripped of some of her clothing as well as her shoes, glasses, and jewelry, then handcuffed and taken to a jail cell. Bailiffs then returned with a wheelchair, restrained her with a belt around the waist that attached to the handcuffs, and forcibly wheeled her back into the courtroom where she was forced to try to defend her client with no glasses, no files, and no client:
Knutson told her that the child custody trial was important, and asked her if she wanted to enter a default on behalf of her client and she said no because that would have harmed her client’s case. So Knutson returned the guardian ad litem to the stand and asked that Michelle MacDonald resume her cross-examination of the guardian. He insisted she do this without the 2011 calendar that he had told her she could get during the break, without the presence of her client, without her files and boxes of information on her client’s case, without a pen or paper, without eye glasses or shoes, and in handcuffs tied to the belt around her waist, sitting in a wheel chair, guarded by deputies with guns standing right behind her.
Court bailiff Tim Gonder’s explanation for all of this: he said MacDonald had refused to cooperate with basic instructions from court personnel. “She asked me to put her shoes and her glasses on. I advised her that was her job and she would not do it. The only reason she’s in a wheelchair is because she would not even stand up to be a part of these proceedings. We had to lift her from her seat and seat her in the chair to get her here.”
Back in the courtroom, the transcript says that Knutson asked MacDonald how she wished to proceed, five times, getting no response; she finally said, “I already objected to these proceedings. I objected to this witness. I’m sitting here in a wheelchair with no shoes on. My glasses are gone. My client isn’t here. My boxes are gone. I object to all these proceedings and I’m asking again, you know, that the kids be restored to their mother and all her property be restored immediately.” Knutson overruled the motion and accused Michelle of causing the disruption deliberately as a delaying tactic, which she denies.
Having read about her DWI arrest…you know, I don’t think this WAS a deliberate delaying tactic. I don’t know what the hell it was, but this seems to be how she operates.
I mean, there are judges out there who are complete jackasses and maybe one of them might pull something like this just because an attorney got on their nerves. But you’d think that a judge who would do something this extreme — have a lawyer hauled away, deprived of her glasses, then brought back handcuffed in a wheelchair for the hell of it — you would think that a number of people might have problems with the guy. But when I googled his name, the only controversy I found centered on Michelle MacDonald.
She had also sued him (prior to this incident). Again, this is from the MinnLawyer site:
That setback came on the heels of a series of other adverse rulings in the case, including an unsuccessful bid to have it heard by the U.S. Supreme Court and the dismissal of a federal lawsuit that MacDonald brought against the presiding judge in the custody trial, Dakota County Judge David Knutson. In that suit, she sought more than $330 million in damages for her client and her five children — more than $55,083,310.22 for each injured party.
Arguing that Knutson’s rulings amounted to “a violation of fundamental constitutional rights,” MacDonald alleged that “the tyranny has continued to assault this family ever since defendant David Knutson became involved.”
She further claimed in the suit that John and Mary Does 1-20 — unnamed government employees who work for police agencies and the courts — “have a secret agenda intent on family annihilation, societal breakdown, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, using children, economic abuse, coercion and threats.” The suit does not specify the damages sought from those parties.
(That last line made me look up the writer for MinnLawyer because I want to give him a shout-out. Mike Mosedale, your dry sense of humor here did not go unappreciated.)
Michelle’s letter goes on to say she was held overnight incommunicado, in a cell made deliberately cold after they took away half her clothes and kept the curtain open so they could watch her pee. She says she was allowed to make no phone calls. (She also notes that she refused to sign for a phone card because they should let her use her cell phone, which they’d confiscated.) She adds, “She was repeatedly told that she had to be ‘booked’ and she repeatedly responded, ‘booked for what?’ She was told she could not make a phone call until she was ‘booked.'” So, okay. She needed to be booked for contempt of court and obstructing legal process; her refusal to cooperate with the citation (and give her name, date of birth, and address) was what got her taken out of the courtroom in handcuffs the first time; it sounds like her refusal to cooperate in any way was what landed her in jail overnight.
After going before a judge she still refused to complete the booking process and someone threatened to toss her back into a cell but apparently cooler heads prevailed and she was released. (My guess is that some higher-up person said, “are you kidding me? No one wants to have to deal with her for another night and we know who she is! Just let her go!”)
Ultimately the charge got dismissed because the court official searched her camera without a warrant.
Her defense of Grazzini-Rucki was done on behalf of the Family Innocence Project, a non-profit she started. (From the MinnLawyer article : “‘I wasn’t her attorney at the time [she lost custody]. I never would have let that happen. She paid her attorneys hundreds of thousands of dollars for this travesty that I’ve been fixing for free,’ MacDonald said through sobs. ‘But I am going to fix it.'” I have mixed feelings about the article mentioning that she’s crying. I’m a crier; I tend to cry when I’m angry or frustrated as well as when I’m hurt. I also cry over sentimental commercials and when trying to sing along with “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.” To some extent, the societal contempt for tears reflects our misogyny. But I also think that someone acting in a professional capacity needs to have sufficient emotional boundaries and distanc that they can discuss their work without a significant display of emotion, be it tears or shouting.)
The Family Innocence Project has its own website: http://www.familyinnocence.com/ Their tagline is “Dedicated to Keeping Families Out of Court: Resolving Conflicts and Injustices Peacefully” — but exactly how they want to do that is not at all clear. She wants to abolish family courts completely, but does not explain what sort of process she wants to replace them with, although she has an extensive list of speakers you can bring to your organization, a bio of Michelle (with this truly hilarious line: “Her easy-going style establishes trust – a great combination to assist parties in resolving disputes”) and (at the very top of her front page, in a bar on the right) a bizarre video featuring Sandra Grazzini-Rucki sitting on an off-season Santa’s lap.
…do you see what I mean about the rabbit hole?
Michelle has appeared repeatedly on a cable access show run by a guy named Tim Kinley. The show is hard to watch as the audio often cuts out randomly, but he seems to have Michelle on a lot (and in fact he has footage from the cop car of the night she got pulled over — starts at 11:51, if you want to watch it.) This got me curious who Tim Kinley was; I found this somewhat incoherent rant from 2010 about how he was persecuted for being a Christian because a court order prevented him from teaching his children Bible lessons, fighting that court order made him broke, and then he was jailed for not paying child support. His lawyer’s name was Jill Clark, which rang an instant bell, because Michelle talks about her on her campaign website; she links to an article from 2013 that describes how Jill Clark was suspended from being able to practice law due to major mental illness, which … I think Michelle thinks she’s being oppressed with this, but I’m not actually 100% sure. (Michelle quotes the bit from the article that says, “Jill Clark faced discipline for accusing judges, others of misconduct” and then says, “HOW DARE SHE, DOESN’T SHE KNOW THAT JUDGES AND OTHER LEGAL PROFESSIONALS ARE ABOVE THE LAW?”)
Michelle’s actual campaign website mentions the GOP nomination but doesn’t have it in the big, hard-to-miss letters you might expect. She also lists no supporters. The website has several features that I tend to view as red flags that the person who put the website together is a kook, like she has WE THE PEOPLE in all capital letters sprinkled liberally through her stances (“The entire social and political structure of Minnesota and America rests upon the cornerstone that WE THE PEOPLE have certain rights which are inherent and inalienable.”) She seems to be very fond of capital letters and uses them a lot. She brags about suing Judge Knutson. She links to an article by a supporter claiming that the drunk driving arrest was a setup and another article by the same guyrailing about the RINOs of the Minnesota GOP banning her from the State Fair booth. Her Issues page includes still more stuff about the Grazzini-Rucki custody case — making me wonder if Grazzini-Rucki is Michelle’s only client, or what?
Though if you made through the drunk driving stuff and her client with Santa and all the rest of it, nothing on her website is going to raise an eyebrow.
Appointed by Governor Dayton in 2012, Lillehaug is running with the advantage of incumbency. THANK GOD. His supporters page is really something to see, given that it includes copious numbers of high-profile Democrats (R.T. Rybak, Amy Klobuchar, Walter Mondale) as well as a whole lot of Republicans (Former Speaker of the MN House Steve Sviggum, Former State Senator Dave Thomas, Arne Carlson, though technically I think Arne is now an independent. He is not actually endorsed by Republican Gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson, who says he’s going to write someone in.)
I actually have a long-standing grudge against Lillehaug because of the business of entrapping Qubilah Shabbazz. But you know what? It was a long time ago and charges were dropped in exchange for Qubilah getting therapy and drug treatment (causing a friend of mine to dryly refer to it as the most expensive intervention in the history of ever) and the bottom line is, I’ll deal.
I would put up with a whole lot worse from Lillehaug before I’d vote for Michelle MacDonald. Because HOLY CRAP.
TL;DR vote for Lillehaug. Oh, believe me, vote for Lillehaug. Even if you think you don’t like him, vote for Lillehaug.
Also, if you’re a Republican, you guys really need to step up your game in terms of vetting judicial candidates you’d like to endorse. Or just quit with the endorsing because this one did your whole party no favors.