Do you know where the girls are, Michelle?
Just about the time you think the case of attorney Michelle MacDonald couldn’t get any stranger, you are proven wrong. MacDonald, the Republican candidate for the Minnesota Supreme Court in the election last November, is in the news again in a Strib story running under the hed “Lakeville sisters still missing two years after parents’ bitter divorce.” MacDonald received more votes and came closer to winning a state-wide race than the Republican candidates for governor or any of the three constitutional offices. She has vowed to run again.
MacDonald ran on a platform of, among other things, abolishing the family courts in Minnesota. To her, I’m sure that the case involving the two Lakeville sisters is Exhibit A in why they should be. In spring of 2014, after MacDonald received the endorsement of the Republicans at their state convention for the election in the fall, Mike Mosedale wrote a story in Politics in Minnesota about the case. Attorney MacDonald represented the wife, Sandra Grazzini-Rucki.
As you’ll recall, during the September 2013 divorce trial, MacDonald took photographs in the courtroom during a recess, and she became obstructive when a deputy tried to issue her a tab charge for a violation of court rules. She was removed from the courtroom and returned in a wheelchair because she refused to even stand up.
One of the issues in this obviously venomous divorce was the custody of the children, including the two minor daughters.
But what you wouldn’t have necessarily picked up on is that the girls were already missing when the trial was taking place at the Dakota County courthouse in September of 2013. According to Strib reporter Brandon Stahl:
In February [of 2015], the Pasco County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office published a Facebook post saying the girls may be in the Tampa Bay area. That Sheriff’s Office said it was “believed that the mother took them from their father.”
It was not the first claim that Grazzini-Rucki was involved in the girls’ disappearance. During a September 2013 divorce trial, the children’s court-appointed advocate testified that she believed the girls were in their mother’s care. In his order granting custody to the father, Dakota County District Judge David Knutson wrote that “the evidence … suggests that [Grazzini-Rucki] knows where her two missing children are and is actively involved in concealing them.”
As written in the Politics in Minnesota story:
According to MacDonald, the first day of the trial went “beautifully,” with her client testifying about her maternal routines. “In legal terms, she had the perfect custody case,” MacDonald said. The following day, the case took an unusual turn when MacDonald began snapping pictures in the courtroom during a break in the proceedings.
Now, back to the Strib:
After Olson [the mother’s sister] told the court she could no longer care for the children, Knutson ordered them to be taken from Olson’s home and placed solely with Love [the father’s sister].
That day, April 19, 2013, police brought the girls to the Lakeville home. Love told the Star Tribune they were there for about half an hour when she went down to the basement.
“That is the last time I saw the girls,” Love said.
Surveillance video obtained from a neighbor showed the girls running to a red truck, according to police. After a few minutes, Love realized the girls were gone. She called police.
Dale Nathan, a longtime critic of the state courts and a suspended attorney [you have to wonder if those two facts are related somehow, ed.], told the Star Tribune that he was with Grazzini-Rucki in her car the day the girls ran away. He said the girls ran from the home to their mother’s car, and the four drove around for two to three hours. Police have never interviewed Nathan.
Three days after the kids ran away, their mother filed an appeal in court that included statements from each girl.
Judge Knutson’s hunch was correct! Apparently Grazzini-Rucki’s “maternal routines” include some rather unusual activities. One wonders if MacDonald’s histrionics in court may have been precipitated by the fact that the proceedings were closing in on the circumstances of the disappearance of the children.
There was no scene on the courthouse steps that day with a tearful Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and Michelle MacDonald pleading for the return of the two girls. Why? Because – in my opinion – they knew where the girls were. That seems to me to be the inescapable conclusion.
Court critic and suspended attorney Dale Nathan shows up elsewhere in the record, too. He was at the Dakota County courthouse that September day when MacDonald was cited for contempt, at least according to the house organ of the Minnesota Tea Party:
Waiting for her outside were several supporters, whom she hardly knew, including Linda Senst, Dale Nathan, and others.
Hardly knew? Remember now, this was just a few months after, according to the Strib, Nathan and Grazzini-Rucki went for a spin with the girls; the girls who haven’t been seen since, well, except for that time they were on Fox 9.
In January of 2014, MacDonald and Grazzini-Rucki appeared on a cable television show in St. Paul called Speechless. The show sometimes features the Gasden Flag as a backdrop; the host seems to share MacDonald’s views of the courts. Again, there were no impassioned pleas begging for the return of the children anywhere in the interview, just complaints about the courts and that awful Judge Knutson.
According to the Strib article, Grazzini-Rucki recently denied knowing where the girls are. She is a “person of interest” in their disappearance, says Michael Brodkorb in a new story at the Strib. Again, Dale Nathan says – obviously of his personal knowledge – that he and Grazzini-Rucki took the girls. And the girls did not “run away;” they were minors who were spirited away by two people who did not have custody of them.
The Lakeville police can’t find the girls; they don’t seem to be able to even find Sandra Grazzini-Rucki.
Michelle MacDonald continues to represent Grazzini-Rucki. Again – in my opinion – she must be aware that her client was involved in the abduction – I can’t think of a more genteel word – of the girls.
Does MacDonald have personal knowledge of the whereabouts of the girls? You have to wonder. One never sees MacDonald with a lapel button “Find the Lakeville Girls.” And think about all the other cases of child kidnapping you’ve read about and the frenzy they cause. Here? Nothing that I’m aware of, at least from the mother or her lawyer. Instead of begging for their return at every media opportunity, they complain about the family courts.
If these things are true, they are not protected as client confidences of an attorney, and that’s probably the least of it.
Activist lawyers sometimes confuse a cause for a client, usually with regrettable results, and that certainly appears to be the case here.
This entire tragic and lamentable affair will undoubtedly be a central issue in any future campaigns by Michelle MacDonald to run for a judicial post.
Ms. MacDonald was offered the opportunity to comment on this story; she did not respond.
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