MNGOP endorsed Supreme Court candidate who faces DUI trial

Two weeks ago, Michelle MacDonald, a family law attorney with three Twin Cities offices, won the Minnesota Republican Party's endorsement to run for the Supreme Court against incumbent Justice David Lillehaug.

Now she's in the news for very different reasons -- it just came to light she faces a criminal trial this fall stemming from an April 5, 2013 DUI arrest.

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According to a charging document we obtained from Dakota County, MacDonald was pulled over at 11:18 p.m. that night on Highway 3 in Rosemount because she was driving "38 and 39 miles per hour" in a 30-mile per hour zone.

As MacDonald sat by herself in her vehicle, "Officer Eckstein detected an alcoholic odor and noticed [MacDonald's] eyes were watery."

"Sergeant Burkhalter observed that [MacDonald] had slurred speech, she was not making sense in the conversation, her eyes were glossy, and he could detect an odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle."

The officers asked MacDonald, 52, to perform field sobriety tests, but she allegedly refused and told officers she was going to walk home. She also told Officer Eckstein she's an attorney, but that didn't work any magic on the cops, who attempted to place her under arrest on suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

But MacDonald "refused to comply with commands to exit the vehicle by tensing up and grabbing onto the steering wheel."

"After removing [MacDonald] from the vehicle, Officer Eckstein read the Minnesota Implied Consent Advisory to her," the complaint says. But MacDonald "refused to submit to a test of her breath."

MacDonald was ultimately charged with refusal to submit to a chemical test, 4th degree DUI, obstructing the legal process, failure to produce proof of insurance, and speeding.

Though news about the charges was just broken publicly today by the Star Tribune -- even MNGOP Chairman Keith Downey says he didn't know about the situation until Strib reporter Abby Simons contacted him -- Simons, citing a conversation with MacDonald, reports that members of the MNGOP's Judicial Election Committee were aware of the charges, but weren't concerned about them.

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MacDonald, who claims to have administered a blood test to herself the morning following her arrest that showed no alcohol in her system, adamantly maintains her innocence. She told the Strib that Dakota County officials are trying to retaliate against her for complaints she filed against them.

But the specifics of MacDonald's situation aside, former MNGOP official Michael Brodkorb tells us he thinks the fiasco will probably end up prompting his former party to change the way it endorses judicial candidates, if it continues doing so at all. (The DFL doesn't endorse judicial candidates.)

"I think the way this endorsement was handled will probably stop the [MNGOP's] judicial endorsements going forward, or at least forever alter the way endorsements are handled," Brodkorb tells us. "This candidate clearly wasn't vetted, and had this information been presented to delegates [at the convention] I question whether she would've been endorsed. This was a really quick [endorsement] process."

MNGOP Chairman Downey declined to comment when the Strib asked him whether news of the charges might prompt his party to revoke MacDonald's endorsement. (Downey didn't respond to a text message we sent him.) But Brodkorb says that probably isn't possible anyway.

"The only way to remove her endorsement would be to call another state convention, but even then you'd get into the question of whether since she was endorsed by one state convention, you'd have competing endorsements," Brodkorb says. "But what the party can do and has done in situations like this in the past is choose not to dedicate resources to her. There are things that a party does for endorsed candidates -- promote campaign literature, mentioning them in sample ballots, phone scripts -- and the party can in essence choose not to support her that way."

Along those lines, Brodkorb says the fact that MacDonald is mentioned on the MNGOP's website as the party's endorsed candidate for Minnesota Supreme Court is probably sufficient.

"Judicial candidates probably get the least amount of party resources spent on them, and in this particular instance I think the party, by posting her picture on its website, has met the requirements of the party rules in terms of supporting her," Brodkorb says. "The question is how much and what types of resources they dedicate going forward."

Twin Cities attorney and legal expert Ron Rosenbaum characterized MacDonald's behavior after her arrest as exceedingly odd.

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"When somebody refuses everything, and then the next day goes and gets a blood test -- alcohol dissipates in the system, which is why they do a blood test as close to the time [of the arrest] as possible -- it's an odd set of facts," Rosenbaum tells us. "It seems to me hardly the type of person you'd want to nominate on the Minnesota Supreme Court."

With regard to MacDonald allegedly pointing out to cops that she's an attorney following her arrest, Rosenbaum says, "You don't get any privileges when you're driving under the influence, so to say you're a cop or an attorney, I'd never advise anybody to do that. It seems like an odd thing to say, and then even odder would be to take a test not under the supervision of police but on own her volition and then use that to maintain innocence."

In a separate but related note, we reported earlier this week about the ACLU-MN's effort to get the aforementioned "implied consent" law that criminalizes refusing to take a sobriety test declared unconstitutional. Refusal to submit to a test is one of the charges MacDonald faces.

Rosenbaum, for what it's worth, thinks a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says law enforcement officers cannot force a drunk-driving suspect to submit to a blood alcohol test without obtaining a search warrant might ultimately result in the Minnesota law being struck down.

"A state can give the people more rights but not less [than the federal government], so the argument would be that criminalizing the refusal to take a test violates the U.S. Constitution," Rosenbaum says. "It used to be [in Minnesota] that if you refused to take a test you lost your license for a year, but then they criminalized that, and that's where the problem comes in. One is a civil punishment, the other criminal."

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]