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Paul Engh
Attorney Paul Engh argues Michelle MacDonald’s case before the Supreme Court on Nov. 8. 2017. He will defend her again in another disciplinary matter on Wednesday. (Image courtesy of Minnesota Judicial Branch)

Bar Buzz: Supreme Court referee to hear MacDonald case

Correction: This item has been revised to correct the length of Michelle MacDonald’s 2018 suspension to 60 days, not six months.

Lawyer Michelle MacDonald will appear before a referee Wednesday, enroute to her second disciplinary hearing before the very tribunal that she has tried for six years to join.

MacDonald, who is running against incumbent Justice Paul Thissen in this year’s Supreme Court election, will appear before a Supreme Court referee in a remote Sept. 16 hearing. It begins at 9 a.m.

The Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board submitted a three-count petition against MacDonald on March 20, seeking revocation of her March 27, 2018, probation order and additional sanctions.

Among its counts, the petition accuses the perennial Supreme Court candidate of filing a “factually frivolous” defamation lawsuit against writer Michael Brodkorb, his website, Missing in Minnesota, and his co-author Allison Mann.

Brodkorb said on Sept. 9 that both he and Mann have been called as witnesses in Wednesday’s hearing before Supreme Court Referee and Senior Judge E. Anne McKinsey.

Besides that charge, MacDonald is accused of repeating past mistakes by accusing Dakota County District Court Judge David Knutson of “usurping” case files during a 2018 radio interview, while she was still on suspension for making false statements against Knutson’s impartiality.

Finally, she is accused of charging “unreasonable fees and fee-splitting,” and of sharing part of a client’s $500 flat fee with another attorney without the client’s knowledge.

In her reply brief, MacDonald admitted to a few basic facts mentioned in the complaint, but otherwise “denies everything alleged in the petition.”

Attorney Paul Engh will argue the case for MacDonald, just he did at her previous hearing on Nov. 8, 2017.

By seeking to discipline her, Engh asserted in his client’s reply brief, the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board is treating her inconsistently, compared to other attorneys who likewise have lost summary judgment motions and then had those decisions affirmed on appeal.

The petition against MacDonald also violates her equal-protection rights and fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the reply brief asserts.

Engh requested that his client be given an in-person hearing as soon as it is safe to hold one. However, Wednesday’s hearing will instead be livestreamed.

The Supreme Court, in an Aug. 13 order signed by Associate Justice Natalie Hudson, gave McKinsey until Oct. 20 to submit facts, findings and recommendations to the court. Election Day is Nov. 3.

The last time MacDonald appeared before the Supreme Court on a disciplinary matter, she was given a 60-day suspension with two years’ probation. Justices Hudson, David Lillehaug and Margaret Chutich—her three previous election opponents—all sat out that case.

However, Justice Anne McKeig issued a stinging partial dissent, in which she argued that MacDonald should have received a stiffer, six-month suspension plus one other “rigorous condition.”

“I would also require respondent Michelle MacDonald to undergo a mental-health evaluation,” McKeig wrote.

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