The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday indefinitely suspended perennial high court candidate and West St. Paul family law attorney Michelle MacDonald over a pattern of professional misconduct.
MacDonald, a Republican, cannot petition for reinstatement for four months, a penalty the Supreme Court said was appropriate for her repeated misconduct that continued even after a previous license suspension and probation.
The court concluded that MacDonald had "recklessly made false statements about the integrity" of Dakota County Judge David Knutson and repeated those false statements in a 2018 radio interview while she served a two-year probation term that followed a 60-day law license suspension for the misconduct.
Knutson presided over the 2013 child-custody trial of Sandra Grazzini-Rucki, whom MacDonald represented. Grazzini-Rucki was later convicted of hiding her two daughters from their father for two years.
The court also concluded that MacDonald failed to obtain another client's written consent in a fee-splitting arrangement.
The Supreme Court went beyond the one-year probation recommended by a court-appointed referee who looked into a petition for disciplinary action filed by the director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, the legal licensing arm for the state.
"We are especially troubled by the repeated nature of MacDonald's misconduct after discipline, MacDonald's knowledge of the factual falsity of her statements, her refusal to acknowledge the wrongfulness of her conduct, and her lack of remorse," the court wrote in its ruling.
The Supreme Court rejected an argument from MacDonald that her statements about the judge were protected by the First Amendment. She was represented in her appeal by Minneapolis attorney Bobby Joe Champion, who is also a DFL member of the Minnesota Senate.
In an e-mail late Wednesday, MacDonald told the Star Tribune that she planned to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It is precisely in the lawyering context — where attorneys engage in speech, association, and petitioning for the very purpose of securing client rights, invoking law, enabling the judicial power, and obtaining justice — that the need for First Amendment protection is the most acute," MacDonald said. "If regulators silence that voice, they silence justice."
"I guess I now join the ranks of President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani."
Justices Margaret Chutich and Paul Thissen — who defeated MacDonald in the 2018 and 2020 elections, respectively — removed themselves from deciding the case. The court otherwise ruled unanimously.
In a 2018 interview, MacDonald told the Star Tribune that she chose to run against Chutich in part because of the justice's homosexuality.
If her license is still suspended in 2022, that could disqualify MacDonald from mounting a fifth bid for the state Supreme Court. MacDonald was also acquitted of a drunken driving charge in 2014 but later convicted of refusing to submit to a breath test and obstructing the legal process during her traffic stop
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755