Michelle MacDonald is appealing both a recommendation from a Minnesota Supreme Court referee that her law license be suspended and a ruling from a three-judge panel which ruled she “knowingly violated” campaign law when she falsely claimed her campaign was endorsed by a non-existent Republican organization.
Court documents show attorneys for MacDonald filed paperwork with the Minnesota Court of Appeals within the last few days on both appeals.
Minnesota Supreme Court referee recommended suspension of Michelle MacDonald’s law license
A judicial referee appointed by the Minnesota Supreme Court recommended earlier this month that Michelle MacDonald’s law license be suspended for a minimum of 60 days, followed by two years of probation, which would include a mental health evaluation.
The recommendation by Judge Heather Sweetland comes after a two day hearing was held last November about an attorney complaint filed against MacDonald, who was a candidate for the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2014 and 2016, and who also serves as Sandra Grazzini-Rucki’s family court attorney.
MacDonald was arrested during a family court hearing in September 2013 while serving as Grazzini-Rucki’s attorney. The public booking from MacDonald’s arrest by the Dakota County Sheriff’s Office is pictured above-left.
Grazzini-Rucki was found guilty in July on six felony counts of deprivation of parental rights related to the disappearance of her daughters, Samantha and Gianna Rucki. The sisters were taken by their mother near their home on the night of April 19, 2013, during a custody and divorce dispute involving their parents.
MacDonald was labeled in April 2015 as a “person of interest” by the Lakeville Police Department in the disappearance of Samantha and Gianna Rucki. MacDonald refused to cooperate with the Lakeville Police Department’s investigation into her possible involvement in the disappearance of the sisters – even after public statements from her that she would cooperate in the investigation.
Her criminal defense attorney, Stephen Grigsby, said in 2015 that he would advise MacDonald to not speak with the Lakeville Police Department.
Below are the findings issued by Judge Sweetland regarding MacDonald.
Attorney complaint against MacDonald alleged violation of rules governing attorney conduct
The 16-page petition for disciplinary action for violating of rules governing attorney conduct was filed against MacDonald by the Director of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board, Susan M. Humiston
The complaint against MacDonald was focused on her behavior during family court proceedings involving Grazzini-Rucki and her legal representation of Joseph Francis D’Costa. The complaint alleged MacDonald’s disorganization required the trial to last longer than necessary, adding that MacDonald offered exhibits that “were a mess.”
Court ruled Michelle MacDonald ‘knowingly violated’ campaign law
A three-judge panel with the Office of Administrative Hearing ruled in December that MacDonald“knowingly violated” campaign law when she falsely claimed she was endorsed by a non-existent Republican organization. The judges also imposed a $500 civil penalty against MacDonald.
Complaint alleged MacDonald’s false claim of endorsement was a “knowing and intentional violation” of campaign laws
Judge Jessica Palmer-Denig held a hearing in November 2016 on the complaint filed against MacDonald by Barbara Linert of Eagan and Timmer of Edina, who claimed MacDonald provided false information to the Star Tribune for publication in their “Voter Guide.”
Last year, MacDonald announced she would run again for the Minnesota Supreme Court, but she was not endorsed by the Republican Party of Minnesota after Republicans decided not to endorse judicial candidates.
The Star Tribune published information provided by MacDonald claiming an endorsement from the “GOP’s Judicial Selection Committee 2016.”
According to the complaint:
In point of fact, there was no “Judicial Selection Committee” under the then-operative constitution of the Republican Party of Minnesota. There was a “judicial election committee,” referred to in lower case in the constitution, the function of which was to screen judicial candidates, and if they met the qualification for the position sought, pass them on to the convention for consideration of an actual endorsement. This committee had no power of endorsement on its own.
The complaint called MacDonald’s claims of endorsement by the Republican Party of Minnesota “highly misleading and deceptive”:
It was highly misleading and deceptive of Ms. MacDonald to claim the endorsement of a committee that did not exist, and to fundamentally misstate what the real committee did. The prospect for deceiving and misleading voters is obvious. The references to “Republican” and “GOP” were intended – also obviously – to cause voters to think that she had continuing Republican Party support, which she does not.
Included in the complaint is a transcript of comments made by MacDonald in a radio interview where she acknowledged she was “not Republican endorsed this year.”
The complaint from Linert and Timmer “assert that claiming endorsement by the fictitious ‘Judicial Selection Committee’ is a knowing and intentional violation” of Minn. Stat. § 211B.02:
Your Complainants assert that claiming endorsement by the fictitious “Judicial Selection Committee” is a knowing and intentional violation of Minn. Stat. § 211B.02 (2016), captioned FALSE CLAIM OF SUPPORT, which states as follows:
A person or candidate may not knowingly make, directly or indirectly, a false claim stating or implying that a candidate or ballot question has the support or endorsement of a major political party or party unit or of an organization [e.g., a BPOU]. A person or candidate may not state in written campaign material that the candidate or ballot question has the support or endorsement of an individual without first getting written permission from the individual to do so.
As noted in the complaint, editors of the Star Tribune removed the claim of endorsement by the “GOP’s Judicial Selection Committee 2016” from MacDonald’s candidate profile days after it was published.
Below is the full order from the Office of Administrative Hearings.