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Minnesota House of Representatives applauds disgraced ex-legislator [VIDEO]

Did they know for whom they clapped?

Did they know for whom they clapped?

UPDATE: According to House Republican communications staff, Jim Rostberg was invited by another member, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt was not involved in Rostberg's appearance on the House floor. Read our original story below.

The introduction of a guest on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives is a common occurrence during the legislative session. Some lawmaker stands up and says the person's name, or rattles off members of a group, and everyone claps for a bit before moving back to official business.

Occasionally, these guests deserve extra scrutiny. Like the one who joined lawmakers on the House floor on Wednesday.

Upon the completion of debate and voting on substantive bills, House Speaker Kurt Daudt made the quick introduction of that day's honored guest: Former legislator Jim Rostberg. As Daudt announced, Rostberg served in the House from 1995-2000.

What Daudt did not say was why Rostberg's stint in the House ended after so few years.

First, let's watch the moment in question, where, at Daudt's urging, staff and legislators give a welcoming round of applause to Rostberg.

Rostberg says he left to focus on starting a business.

Rostberg says he left to focus on starting a business.

Note the friendly smile the House Speaker gives to the object of their applause. 

Now, the backstory.

Rostberg, a Republican, was midway through his third term in the Legislature's lower chamber when he was arrested and charged with three felony counts of criminal sexual assault. A girl, then 14, had accused Rostberg, a family acquaintance, of repeated instances of unwelcome fondling over a period of several years.

According to the criminal complaint, Rostberg's wife confronted him about one accusation, that he had recently groped the juvenile girl's breasts, and the legislator told her he "felt bad, it was just stupid."

The surfacing of Rostberg's case could not have been more public for those working in the Capitol. Rostberg was arrested by Anoka County deputies in the middle of the session, and had to be called off the House floor to be put in handcuffs. As noted by Minnesota Public Radio reporter Brian Bakst, formerly with the Associated Press, there isn't another case in recent memory of a sitting lawmaker "hauled from the Capitol in cuffs."

Rostberg was immediately hit with an ethics complaint filed by fellow legislators, though that was deferred until his criminal case was resolved. Within weeks, Rostberg had solved his ethics issue... by  announcing that he wouldn't run for reelection. He claimed that decision had nothing to do with his court case, and was instead about his wish to focus on starting a private-sector business instead of being a "career politician."

By that time, the prosecutor had dropped two of the sexual misconduct charges against Rostberg, citing a lack of evidence. But the third, alleging Rostberg had touched the girl's breasts, remained.

But the girl had a change of heart. The case had been traumatizing for her even before the arrest and charges: The criminal complaint says she had developed an eating disorder stemming from anxiety related to abuse. In August, Prosecutor Mary Yunker explained that the girl no longer wanted to participate in a court case, citing the "intense media and public scrutiny generated by the public profile" of the defendant.

Instead, the case was sent down to juvenile court, with the agreement that charges would be dropped, so long as Rostberg made a "full admission" to "elements" of the girl's allegations. (Juvenile courts handle civil proceedings on criminal sexual cases, and their results are sealed.) 

And that was that. Rostberg continued in his job as a Veterans Service Officer for Isanti County, and remained a Republican party activist. But he'd mostly disappeared from public life until this past Wednesday. By that time, his Capitol arrest was 16 years in the past; only a couple dozen legislators in the chamber would have remembered his case.

The quiet, relatively painless adjudication of charges against Rostberg might seem unsatisfying in hindsight. Nevertheless, it derailed his political career, and seems to have kept him from returning to the House for more than a decade and a half.

Then one day, he did come back. And the strangest damn thing happened. The Speaker of the House said his name. Smiled. Then they all stood up and cheered.