A frequent Minnesota Supreme Court candidate with a history of legal problems is running a fourth time for the high court as she faces a new restriction against her license to practice law.
On Oct. 20, the state Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility recommended that Michelle MacDonald be placed under supervised probation for an additional year. She’s already been on probation for two years after a 60-day suspension of her license in 2018. Each side has 10 days to decide whether to appeal.
Meanwhile, MacDonald is seeking to unseat state Supreme Court Justice Paul Thissen, 53, who is on the statewide ballot for the first time since his appointment by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2018. Thissen served for 16 years as a DFL member of the state House from Minneapolis, including two as speaker.
MacDonald, 58, has run against incumbent justices in the past three elections and lost, most recently in 2018, the same year her license was suspended for 60 days. The Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility determined then that she had committed professional misconduct when she failed to competently represent a client, recklessly made false statements about a judge and misused subpoenas — among other things.
After her two-month suspension, she was permitted to practice law again under supervised probation for two years. The findings issued last week stem from allegations she violated the terms of her probation.
To MacDonald, the actions against her are part of the “corruption” she would seek to undo as a member of the Supreme Court. “The system is tyrannical against the people,” she said. “This is just another attempt to muzzle me and other attorneys.”
In MacDonald’s view, the judicial system is rife with corruption, much of it focused on thwarting her attempts at dumping the current family court system where judges are “the heads of the snake” who are “enabling social workers to just go take babies away.”
The latest finding by the lawyers office found that she had violated the terms of her probation by again falsely impugning the character of Dakota County Judge David Knutson during a WCCO Radio interview in October 2018. He was the presiding judge in the 2013 child-custody trial of MacDonald’s client Sandra Grazzini-Rucki — who was herself later convicted of hiding her two daughters from their father for two years.
In the 2018 radio interview, MacDonald accused Knutson of depriving her client of rights without due process. The lawyers office found that her comments continued to unfairly undermine the judiciary.
The 19-page ruling against MacDonald, which found two separate allegations of probation violations to be unsubstantiated, noted that it was unknown who had filed the complaint against her and why it was filed at the end of her two-year probation.
“Can attorneys not talk about bad judges? I guess we can’t. Do you understand that,” she said in a phone interview.
MacDonald hasn’t shown much electoral power in her statewide races, but the lower-profile judicial contests can be unpredictable and worrisome for court observers.
In 2018, MacDonald drew 43.7% of the vote against Justice Margaret Chutich. In 2016, MacDonald lost to Justice Natalie Hudson, drawing 40.8% %. She drew 46.5% against incumbent David Lillehaug in 2014.
Thissen and Knutson declined to comment.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747