The Office of Administrative Hearings has ordered a hearing be held next week on the complaint filed against Michelle MacDonald, which alleges she violated the Minnesota Fair Campaign Practices Act by falsely claiming her current campaign for the Minnesota Supreme Court had received the endorsement of the Republican Party of Minnesota.
The complaint against MacDonald was filed earlier this week by Barbara Linert of Eagan and Steve Timmer of Edina, who claim MacDonald provided false information to the Star Tribune for publication in their “Voter Guide.”
In an order issued earlier today, Judge Jessica A. Palmer-Denig said the complaint filed against MacDonald “alleges sufficient facts” to “support finding a prima facie violation”:
The Administrative Law Judge concludes that the complaint alleges sufficient facts regarding Respondent’s claimed endorsements to support finding a prima facie violation of Minn. Stat. § 211B.02.
Judge Palmer-Denig ordered a probable cause hearing to be held next Tuesday. According to the order from court:
At the conclusion of the probable cause hearing, the Administrative Law Judge will either: (1) dismiss the complaint based on a determination that the complaint is frivolous, or that there is no probable cause to believe that the violation of law alleged in the complaint has occurred; or (2) determine that there is probable cause to believe that the violation of law alleged in the complaint has occurred and refer the case to the Chief Administrative Law Judge for the scheduling of an evidentiary hearing. Evidentiary hearings are conducted pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 211B.35 (2016).
The complaint alleges MacDonald’s false claim of endorsement was a “knowing and intentional violation” of campaign laws.
In 2014, MacDonald was the Republican endorsed candidate for the Minnesota Supreme Court against Justice David Lillehaug. MacDonald lost to Lillehaug by just 7 points — 53 percent to 46 percent in November 2014.
Earlier this 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.
More legal trouble ahead for MacDonald
MacDonald also serves as Sandra Grazzini-Rucki’s family court attorney.
An attorney complaint was filed against MacDonald in August related to her legal representation of Grazzini-Rucki in family court. A hearing on the complaint is scheduled for November 15, 2016 at 9:00 A.M., at the Minnesota Judicial Center, Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board Courtroom.
MacDonald has also been labeled as a “person of interest” by the Lakeville Police Department in the disappearance of two sisters from Lakeville, Samantha and Gianna Rucki, the daughter’s of MacDonald’s client Grazzini-Rucki.
Grazzini-Rucki was found guilty in July on six counts of deprivation of parental rights for her role in the disappearance of her daughters. MacDonald’s campaign manager in 2014, DeDe Evavold, was also found guilty last month for her involvement in the disappearance of the Rucki sisters.
The girls’ father, David Rucki was awarded full custody of all five of his children in November 2013, while two of his daughters remained missing.
On November 18, 2015 – 944 days after they disappeared – the girls were found living on a ranch in northern Minnesota by law enforcement, headed by the Lakeville Police Department. Rucki was reunited with his daughters days after they were found and they live with him at the family’s home in Lakeville.
Below is the memorandum from the Office of Administration Hearings on the complaint filed against MacDonald. Please check back to Missing in Minnesota for updates on the complaint.
OAH Memorandum on Campaign complaint against Michelle MacDonald by Michael Brodkorb on Scribd