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Sandra Grazzini-Rucki takes out harassment order against reporter Michael Brodkorb

Reporter and ex-politico Michael Brodkorb doesn't hide the fact that he despises Sandra Grazzini-Rucki. But did he stalk her?

Reporter and ex-politico Michael Brodkorb doesn't hide the fact that he despises Sandra Grazzini-Rucki. But did he stalk her? Star Tribune

Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was convicted in July of six felonies related to spiriting away her two daughters from their father – who now has custody rights – and hiding them at a horse ranch in Herman, Minnesota for more than two years.

She asserted that she did it to save the girls, Samantha and Gianna Rucki, from their father David Rucki’s abuse.

At first the girls backed Mom’s allegations. But during the trial, Samantha testified that although it was her own idea to run away back in the spring of 2013, her father never raised a hand to any of the five children. Samantha only wanted to escape the bitterness of her parents’ custody fight and be with her mother.

For her troubles, Grazzini-Rucki certainly has reporter Michael Brodkorb to thank. Brodkorb, a former Republican operative turned Star Tribune blogger turned MinnPost reporter, now runs a personal blog devoted entirely to the saga of the missing Rucki sisters. His early coverage of the case exposed Grazzini-Rucki’s knowledge of the girls’ whereabouts, eventually leading to their discovery. 

Brodkorb has continued to cover every step of Grazzini-Rucki’s prosecution, attending every day of her trial. He is looking forward to wrapping up this chapter of the story with Grazzini-Rucki’s sentencing hearing next week.

On Monday, Grazzini-Rucki filed a restraining order against Brodkorb, accusing him of overstepping the boundaries of a journalist by stalking her all over town, threatening her, and taking photos of her without her permission. A judge signed the order ex parte – meaning there was no hearing and Brodkorb was not given the opportunity to respond to the allegations.

Nevertheless, he is now barred from attending her court appearances, which means he cannot effectively cover her at all.

Of course, reporters don’t need permission to photograph or record people in public spaces. They don’t need permission to attend public court hearings. And they certainly don’t need permission to name people in the news.

The problem with Brodkorb, says Grazzini-Rucki’s former attorney Michelle MacDonald, is that he’s a “very, very bad” reporter. “He doesn’t report facts,” she says. “He’s a warmonger, basically.”

In her petition to file the harassment order, Grazzini-Rucki describes how Brodkorb threatened her by jumping out from behind a tree and taking unwanted photographs of her as she left the courthouse.

She blamed his blogs – specifically one recent post in which Brodkorb draws parallels between the investigation of the missing Rucki girls and the disappearance of Jacob Wetterling – for demonizing her and inciting strangers to send her death threats.

In February after she made bail, Brodkorb tailed her and her attorney from the Hastings jail to Walmart, to Arby’s, to Caribou, and then back and forth down Highway 55, trying to snap photos of them, Grazzini-Rucki told City Pages.

“He was right up behind us, so Michelle pulled over, whipped a U-turn in the other direction. He stopped, pulled a U-turn, and kept following us,” Grazzini-Rucki says. “He kept following us for at least 40 minutes.”

Grazzini-Rucki described Brodkorb’s vehicle as an orange minivan.

“I don’t drive an orange minivan,” Brodkorb says. “If they were followed by someone in an orange minivan, it wasn’t me, as I don’t drive an orange minivan and I’ve never followed Sandra or her attorney.”

Within hours of being served, Brodkorb went online and wrote a new blog denouncing Grazzini-Rucki’s harassment order as totally fraudulent. He believes that the judge mistakenly signed off only because Grazzini-Rucki omitted the fact that he is a working journalist.

He has never followed Grazzini-Rucki to her home, Brodkorb says. He did take a photo of her leaving the Dakota County courthouse after the first day of trial, but he wasn’t the only newsman there, and he definitely did not jump out from behind a tree to do it. When it comes to the death threats that Grazzini-Rucki has allegedly received from terrible people online, it’s ultimately not his responsibility to police everyone who reads his blogs.

The day she made bail, he coincidentally noticed her attorney’s car parked at the Arby’s across the street from the jail and tweeted about it before going on his own way, Brodkorb says. The rest of the pursuit is made up.

“I think she was largely upset with my coverage of the case, when I was writing for the Star Tribune or when I was writing in an independent fashion,” Brodkorb says. “The question remains whether she’ll be on probation or get jail time. It’s a culmination of the entire legal process that’s gone on. It’ll be the culmination of a lot of reporting and work that I’ve done, and she’s obviously upset about that, so she’s conjured up these fictitious events.”

Grazzini-Rucki called police to report Brodkorb for violating the harassment order shortly after he blogged about it.

Brodkorb’s attorney Nathan Hansen says that the judge has already granted them a face-to-face hearing to challenge the order. If the issue is not sorted out by next week, Brodkorb will have to choose whether to sit out Grazzini-Rucki’s sentencing or attend, and risk arrest.