Lawyers Board: Michelle MacDonald’s ‘serious misconduct’ warrants suspension of her law license

Michelle MacDonald’s behavior during a family court hearing for Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was described as “the ultimate dereliction of an attorney’s duty, and is unquestionably serious misconduct warranting suspension” in a brief filed by the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board involving the attorney complaint against MacDonald.

A judicial referee appointed by the Minnesota Supreme Court recommended in January that 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.

MacDonald is appealing the recommendation that her law license be suspended and the brief filed by Susan M. Humiston, Director of the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board.

Minnesota Lawyers Board claims MacDonald “demonstrated a pattern of disruptive, unprofessional, troubling conduct unbefitting an officer of the court.”

The brief filed by Humiston was blunt in describing that MacDonald’s behavior was “unbefitting an officer of the court.”  The Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board “requests that this court suspend Respondent for a minimum of ninety days followed by a two-year period of probation, with a mental health assessment.”

Additional key points contained in the brief:

The federal lawsuit filed by MacDonald on behalf of Grazzini-Rucki contained statements which “were false and made with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity.”

  • “Referee Sweetland found that many of the statements made in the federal lawsuit, which were repealed in numerous forums, were false and made with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity.”

Regarding MacDonald being placed in a wheelchair during a family court hearing involving Grazzini-Rucki, the brief noted that MacDonald “was solely responsible” for the situation.

  • “The video of events, the transcript of the proceeding and the testimony of those who witnessed and participated in the event all corroborated that respondent was solely responsible for the situation in which she placed herself.”

Finally, the brief said MacDonald “has shown no insight into her misconduct or ethical obligations…”

  • “Respondent has shown no insight into her misconduct or ethical obligations, and continues throughout briefing in this matter to place responsibility on everyone but herself.”

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 Humiston last August.

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.”

On her campaign website, MacDonald encouraged people to attend her disciplinary hearing but promotes the wrong date of the hearing. MacDonald’s website states “the hearing is on Wednesday, November 16. All are welcomed to attend.”

The hearing was actually scheduled for November 15, 2016, at 9:00 A.M., at the Minnesota Judicial Center, Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board Courtroom. Aside from her husband, only one supporter of MacDonald attended a portion of the two-day hearing.

The disciplinary hearing against MacDonald was held one week after she was soundly defeated by incumbent Justice Natalie Hudson for s seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

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.

This year, MacDonald was not endorsed by the Republican Party of Minnesota for the Minnesota Supreme Court after Republicans decided not to endorse judicial candidates.

As noted in the complaint, MacDonald was disciplined by the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board in 2012 for “for failing to deposit settlement proceeds into a trust account, failing to maintain proper trust account books and records, failing to promptly deliver funds to a client, failing in her duty to be responsible for the conduct of a non-lawyer and failing to cooperate with the Director’s investigation…”

Both MacDonald’s client and former campaign manager convicted of felonies related to disappearance of children

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 ran from their home on April 19, 2013, during a custody and divorce proceeding involving their Grazzini-Rucki and David Rucki.

MacDonald has been labeled as a “person of interest” by the Lakeville Police Department in the disappearance of the Rucki sisters – a label which law enforcement confirmed has not been removed from MacDonald. MacDonald was replaced as Grazzini-Rucki’s criminal defense attorney by Stephen Grigsby on November 18, 2015 – the same day the girls were found living on a ranch in northern Minnesota by law enforcement, headed by the Lakeville Police Department.

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. Rucki was reunited with his daughters days after they were found and they live with him at the family’s home in Lakeville.

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.

Deirdre (Dede) Evavold, MacDonald’s former campaign manager, was convicted in September on six counts of felony deprivation of parental rights involving the disappearance of the Rucki sisters. Evavold was listed as the chair of MacDonald’s campaign until earlier this year.

Court rules Michelle MacDonald ‘knowingly violated’ campaign law

In an unrelated court proceeding, a three-judge panel ruled last December that MacDonald “knowingly violated” campaign law when she falsely claimed she was endorsed by a non-existent Republican organization.

The judges with the Office of Administrative Hearings also imposed a $500 civil penalty against MacDonald.

MacDonald is appealing this decision.

Please check back to Missing in Minnesota for updates for updates on the disciplinary complaint filed against MacDonald.

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