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Michelle MacDonald speaks at the 2014 Republican state convention in Rochester. (File photo: Mike Mosedale)
Michelle MacDonald speaks at the 2014 Republican state convention in Rochester. (File photo: Mike Mosedale)

Michelle MacDonald receives ‘minimal’ discipline

A curtain dropped earlier this month in the operatic saga that resulted in a disciplinary action against West. St. Paul attorney Michelle MacDonald.

With a recommended discipline of a 60-day suspension, some may say Judge Heather Sweetland should have come down more forcefully, but she gave the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility what it requested.  Sweetland was appointed as referee in the matter by the Supreme Court.

Nevertheless, MacDonald is seeking review of the findings and the recommendation, said her attorney, Paul Engh. A transcript has been ordered.

The second act already promises more drama.

Justices David Lillehaug, Natalie Hudson and Margaret Chutich have recused from MacDonald’s case and former Justice Christopher Dietzen has been appointed acting justice. That means Chief Justice Lorie Gildea, Dietzen, and Justices G. Barry Anderson, David Stras and Anne McKeig will hear the matter.

MacDonald’s transgressions included taking pictures in a courtroom, interrupting and speaking over judges, issuing subpoenas to attorneys to acquire billing information, disrupting a courtroom to the point where she was taken into custody and making false accusations in a federal lawsuit against a judge, Sweetland said.

MacDonald would have two years of supervised probation, as requested by the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility. Reinstatement is automatic after a 60-day suspension.

Sweetland called the recommendation “minimal” under the circumstances and recommended a mental health evaluation and follow-through as a condition of probation.

MacDonald has requested a review of the findings and the recommendation, said her attorney, Paul Engh. Engh has ordered a transcript.

Sweetland said the issues in the hearing were broadly grouped into three parts: statements and actions against Judge David Knutson and Hennepin County Referee Timothy Mulrooney, alleged incompetence regarding the issuance of subpoenas and appeals and actions taken by MacDonald to disrupt court proceedings.

The petition against MacDonald was filed in July by the director of the OLPR, Susan Humiston, who also tried the case.  In large part it resulted from a dissolution case where parenting time and child support was contested.

MacDonald represented mother Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, who hid her two daughters from their father for over two years and was convicted for deprivation of parental rights. She claimed she was protecting the daughters from abuse.  Grazzini-Rucki chose incarceration over probation and Department of Corrections records do not show that she is in custody.

MacDonald was the fourth attorney to work for Grazzini-Rucki. She subpoenaed the three prior attorneys and their billing records, alleging that they needed to appear in court to lay the foundation for the bills. The subpoenas were quashed and MacDonald was sanctioned more than $6,000.

A custody trial in September 2013 devolved into disarray after Judge David Knutson refused to recuse himself.  MacDonald asked him to recuse because she had sued him in federal court for civil rights violations and then initially refused to proceed with the trial. The referee found that MacDonald admitted that she was unprepared.

The next day, MacDonald took pictures in the courtroom even after deputies told her to stop, the findings continue. They confiscated her camera and then her cell phone. Knutson was not on the bench, which MacDonald asserted meant that the order against pictures during a trial or proceeding did not apply.  The deputies attempted to cite her for contempt and she left the courtroom with them. Grazzini-Rucki and another woman packed all the trial materials and left the courtroom within three minutes.

MacDonald was taken into custody for refusing to provide information to the deputies and was later returned to the courtroom handcuffed in a wheelchair since she refused to stand or walk. In the courtroom, she refused to speak with the judge or make arrangements to retrieve her file.

Sweetland said that MacDonald’s and Grazzini-Rucki’s actions apparently were orchestrated to disrupt the trial and that MacDonald failed to competently represent her client.

Criminal charges against MacDonald were dropped because the deputies had taken her camera without a warrant. The federal court case was dismissed. Knutson is a member of the Board of Judicial Standards, and MacDonald sought his dismissal, which could not happen because it was a gubernatorial appointment.

Overreaching?

MacDonald based her defense on the First Amendment and good faith. “Ms. MacDonald’s comments concerning Judge Knutson were based upon her subjective feelings and opinions about his unfairness. In this context, the Board’s complaint should be read with greater caution. Its Notice seeks to vindicate the bench at the expense of the bar’s right to question what was deplorable conduct, the shackling of a non-dangerous advocate during a trial,” Engh told the court in a brief.

Engh noted that it is unclear whether the director must disprove MacDonald’s defenses and, if so, by what standard. MacDonald is charged with violating Rule 8.2 for making a false statement about a judge, but alleges that her comments as an advocate, made in good faith, do not require personal knowledge.

“The Court could have easily remedied what happened by insisting she be released, for a tab charged premised upon an illegal search, concerning a district court rule she did not violate[.] Ms. MacDonald’s belief and opinion that Judge Knutson did not [order her release] because of her complaints against him has a certain resonance,” Engh wrote.

Engh noted that some judges have made more critical statements about each other than MacDonald ever did. For instance, in 1995 Judge LaJune Lange held a press conference and stated that sitting judges “have intimidated, threatened lawyers, public citizens, the media and others who disagree with their methods or personal agenda.” No discipline resulted.

And in advocating for suspending MacDonald’s law license, Engh wrote, the board overreached. “The bulk of the complaint concerns matters that would not otherwise see the light of day. The taking of a picture when court is not in session; the subpoenas for fee evidence in a divorce case concerned with awarding fees; the dismissal of an appeal without a concomitant malpractice claim by another otherwise contented client; the failure to properly object and preserve an issue is mentioned in scores of appellate decisions each year without Board intervention. An attorney’s sporadic interruptions of the Court during a hotly contested trial is something that happens from time to time.”

Engh asked the court to consider the various ethical precepts involved, which conflict with each other, against a 25-year legal career featuring extensive pro bono work. He also argued that the court had a reciprocal duty to refrain from demeaning a lawyer. Allowing her to be “shackled” offended judicial decorum and respect for MacDonald as an individual, he wrote.

7 comments

  1. Affiant has been fighting Courts,Judges over 40 years taking our Children by Court Order is Bizzare, then honest lawyer is Sanctioned must not stand in the interest of Justice http://www.crimes-against-humanity.blogspot.com

  2. MacDonald’s attorney, Paul Engh, offered a sound, heartfelt rebuttal at the Supreme Court hearing to the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility (OLPR). Watch the hearing at SpeechlessNEss, found on YouTube.

    Be sure to read this article fully to the end, to get beyond its early biases of sins of omission.

    This whole Grazzini-Ricki case appears to certainly prove that Judge Knutson of Dakota County is an unfit judge, deserving of impeachment and disbarment (and that certain individuals of Dakota County Law enforcement are bad actors.)

    But, of course, the self-interested, protectionist judicial/BAR oligarchy, with its self-oversight with its captive Judicial Standards Board and OLPR has circled it’s wagons around Knitting, to protect him from someone with the fortitude to attempt to expose him for what he is.

    The judiciary has a long ways to go to began to regain respect for itself.

  3. That’s SpeechlessMN on YouTube. And Knitted, not Knitting.

  4. Darn! That’s Knutson, not Knitted, or Knitting.

  5. Michelle MacDonald is one of the most honorable LAWYERS you will find. Her INTEGRITY is beyond reproach. The United States of America’s Judiciary in all States along with all FEDERAL Courts are on the Slippery Slope of denying all BASIC rights of American Citizens.

    The problem with Judges is the following:

    Todays Dark Side of Judging an Enterprise of Corruption / Collusion with “FRIENDS”

    Generate fees for favored attorneys aka the Currency of Judging

    Nepotism

    Ignoring or failing to adequately police themselves

    Lacking satisfactory results

    Disdainful of the idea that the public has any role or right to overseeing them

    The Country Club aka Secret Society / Mafia / Old Boys Network / the Hookers / the Masons some rules:
    Members pledge their first allegiance to judges
    Members pay dues and all Financial Obligations promptly
    Members volunteer assistance to Insiders over Outsiders, and they expect reciprocal eventually: a favor begets a reciprocal obligation
    Rules and favors are not recorded or written down
    Learn conformity; do not descent outside the club; practice loyalty to those who feed, support and refer cases to you. All people who function with any part of the court system are to treat all judges as their bosses.
    Maintain and support Club exclusively.
    Keep Club business within the clubhouse. This means no whistleblowing, public criticism or complaints.
    Speak nicely to other members- practice unnatural civility in the face of adversity.
    There is an honor code for members, this code is Secret.

    The secret society rules are different. These are secret rationalizations are excuses allowing special treatment for judges and Insider members. As a pro se litigants have no private club rules that would benefit.

    No different for a Pro Se Litigant then as Justice Chuck Douglas called it the SERENGETI Takedown: A reference to predatory pack of animals in the African desert, chasing, then malling and killing an injured or isolated animal.

    This process can move quickly against any critic, or take years in a series of cases instituted in the extended court / bar system.

    Court rules STATE there are limits on a Judge’s Discretion with self-regulation but, the appearance is it favors “trading favors” going on below the surface. Giving Judges the discretion and or the right to ignore the big picture and only look at one side – the side he FAVORS.

    That all judges / defendants have improperly influenced each case with the lack of transparency by deciding each case secretly in Chambers never once in the Federal District Court System. This element of secrecy is believed to further the cover-up of each other and lawyers.

    Relationships that get you the Judgeship also known as the Old Boys Network “ Selecting people: the style has been to hire mediocre men who would become part of the old culture and not raise problems or ask questions – Good Ole Boys. nobody cared about their abilities as long as they came from the right places, had gone to the right schools, and had the right family background.” The appearance becomes that people are selected with mediocre ability for positions of power and authority based on their compliance and willingness to protect each other and the system not the American Citizen.

    The court functions for the Insiders, but must tolerate the Outsiders. Outsiders are essential for a successful Financial operation. Ol’boys detest using their personal money to operate and so the need of large infusions of Outsider money are funneled through the club in the form of lawyer fees, cost and fines. Which creates many illegally going to jail for being poor, due to back door ownership of the jails by Judges, and the hopes of others paying the fees.

    FOJ = Friends of Judges. What the public doesn’t understand. Hawking friendship as a marketing tool implies ongoing Insider influence. Judges / Judicial appointments are favor based, not merit. Favers between Ol’ Boys are exchanged like currency. if not formed from prior social relationships, they can be earned by political fundraising, expedient public endorsements, by offering legal service to another member in need. Legal Services between lawyers and judges are often traded, or other gratis or greatly discounted. Often it is understood that legal bills between members will be complementary and will not be paid out of pocket – except if charged over for payments by non-insiders or public funds this is just one financial advantage to being in the Old Boy Network.

    The PUBLIC IGNORED:

    Americans are the clients and legal consumers yet Lawyers don’t act that way, the MEDIA IGNORES it, and the BAR Association works to suppress it. Legal Consumers don’t understand it, and have no advocates in there corner.

    The legal monopoly of a Victim making it impossible to find Justice:

    1. Judges often appoint a variety of legal experts / personnel for which The Outsider must pay

    2. There are no real discounted hourly rates, no flat fee billing allowed, price cutting is prohibited –
    The litigation often takes longer than it should due to Consumers believing there is a Level Playing Field of fairness in the court

    3. Courts are public institutions. There is no alternative Forum where people can be forced to show up an answer legal charges filed against them. The courts are supposed to be constitutionally based, individuals have no alternative but to rely on the legal system to Honor and Uphold the fundamental rights, while dispensing Fairness and Justice. Trusting the court process to be fair and unbiased is a basic belief in the American culture that the Defendants have violated that trust along with Judge Henry Hudson

    4. The Judges hold the power because we supposedly trust them. They anticipate that we will trust them, and act to convince us there is no other choice. The air of entitlement surrounding judges not only makes them intimidating but works to avoid questions about how fairly the process is working, and what to do about untrustworthy behavior. The legal system functions best for judges, if people do not question whether or not judge actions are reliable and trustworthy. The working assumptions of Judges is that of polarity – Club insiders are good, and Outsiders are less good – a duality of thinking that labels and compares, then ignores or abrogates fundamental rights of Outsiders through false distinctions / practices. As an authoritative public system, it functions with many poor results and outcomes, and opposition to Western concepts of virtue, empathy, justice, and respect for individual human rights. As a new Monopoly, the systematic pattern of hostility to ‘Outsiders’ developed across the entire Court Branch and makes trust unwarranted and dangerous.

    5. Further internally the system has created judges as self regulating. A Judge only answers to other Judges. Judges claim it i in the public good to keep private allegations of judicial misconduct. There is no external source to hold Judges accountable as they TORTURE THE PUBLIC with there criminal enterprise.

    The Basic Liberty of Due Process has been violated. The basic liberty that our Flag stands for and here is where the standard of Liberty is set for the rest of the World. It is under the Oath that each Judge has taken that this heavy burden lies on your shoulders to protect the Rights of each and every American Citizen. That the Appearance of Justice is just as important as Justice itself. That our young men and women are in harm’s way in many countries fighting for rights Janice has been raped of by the defendants. That as Americans if this is not taken very serious we will end up as Nazi Germany did. That jailing a Jewish person and taking away all there fundamental rights is how it started.

    The result of this unusual absence of checks and balances has become a “perfect storm” of unchecked power, absence of meaningful oversight, and financially-motivated professionals who operate the system—lawyers, city/ county-level bureaucrats, none of whom are open to input from litigants. Litigants encounter the system as a revolving door process with short term goals. There is no longer term litigant-side input to protect the legal and ethical integrity of the processes which deployed and policed by the system operators themselves. The resulting exploitation ruins the American Citizen and their families while enriching attorneys, governments, elected officials and judges who administer the processes they, and they alone, created.

    Everything written here is the thoughts of JW Grenadier – with great sadness to see such a WONDERFUL Person who I have heard speack several times in Washington DC be treated so unfairly for being one of the few who STAND UP and SPEAK OUT for the fundimental rights of all Americans.

  6. Thank you, JW Grenadier, for your well-spoken comment above, here.

  7. The article has an egregious error in it, if I am somehow not mistaken.

    I downloaded and read the recent Minnesota Supreme Court opinion. My recollection is that the Opinion stated that there was no imposition of a psychological evaluation.

    Judge Knutson has corrupted and poisoned the whole Grazzini-Rucki divorce case, and sabotaged MacDonald’s reputation in the process. Handled properly by the Judicial Standards Board, he should be removed from the bench and disbarred.

    It is tragic, indeed, and damaging to the public’s perception of the judiciary, how the judiciary/BAR oligarchy has sought to protect Knutson.

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