Flying home to face the music
See the update with remarks by law professor David Schultz below.
By letter dated October 26th, Michelle MacDonald entered her appearance on behalf of Sandra Grazzini-Rucki in the criminal case in Dakota County against Grazzini-Rucki.
In her letter of transmittal to Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, MacDonald also requested to travel “port to port” with Grazzini-Rucki when she is returned to Minnesota from Florida, where she was apprehended. Here’s the letter and the certificate:
The prospect of Michelle and Sandra mugging selfies for Twitter in the airplane on the ride home ought to give everybody pause, including James Backstrom. I doubt it will happen.
On the more important issue of representation, though, I’ve written before that Grazzini-Rucki needs to get out from under the influence of Michelle MacDonald, since MacDonald is considered a person of interest in the case.
As potential co-defendants in the case, there is a clear potential conflict of interest between Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and Michelle MacDonald. If there was ever a case when Grazzini-Rucki needed independent advice, this is it. There are many reasons for this, which we won’t get into for the moment.
Well, the moment has arrived. The interests of Sandra Grazzini-Rucki and Michelle MacDonald are not congruent, to put it delicately.
Grazzini-Rucki was represented by MacDonald in April of 2013 when Samantha and Gianna Rucki disappeared. The Lakeville police have recently said:
Both the Lakeville Police Department and US Marshals are moving forward with leads and information to find the missing children. During the ongoing investigation, detectives have learned the act of taking the girls, as well as the continued act of keeping the girls in hiding, has involved a network of individuals. The Lakeville Police Department has gathered a list of “persons of interest” in this case. Members of this network who have had a hand in the abduction of the children, as well as the continued hiding of the children, could face felony charges for their involvement.
And in the same linked story, you can read about a search warrant executed on Dede Evavold, a confidant of Michelle MacDonald, in fact, her campaign manager when MacDonald ran for the Supreme Court in 2014. The investigation is getting whisker close to MacDonald herself.
The warrant receipt lists, inter alia, a “stack” of documents about the Rucki case, and a “folder of legal documents” from the MacDonald law firm about the Rucki case.
Ever since this case took new life last spring, I have wondered about whether Michelle MacDonald was involved somehow in the abduction of, or subsequent hiding of, Samantha and Gianna. The lack of concern of MacDonald and Grazzini-Rucki in public over the girls’ whereabouts in the months after their disappearance is puzzling. Well, it’s worse than that. It’s suspicious.
One of the reasons it’s suspicious is because of one of Grazzini-Rucki and MacDonald’s fellow travelers in this whole lamentable affair: suspended attorney Dale Nathan. Nathan gave advice to a client to hide a child from the other parent about ten years ago. When the child surfaced after a year, Nathan’s client was convicted of the same crime that Grazzini-Rucki is charged with. Nathan was not charged, inexplicably to me, but he was suspended from the practice of law, a stigma he still suffers from.
The client told the authorities that she was following advice from Nathan. That may have figured in the disposition of the criminal case against the client.
Even now MacDonald repeats Grazzini-Rucki’s statements that she doesn’t know where the girls are, but that she hopes they won’t be found.
This is why Michelle MacDonald should not represent Sandra Grazzini-Rucki. There is an obvious and large potential conflict of interest between MacDonald and Grazzini-Rucki. Grazzini-Rucki also needs clear-headed and independent advice about her situation, which is serious, and only grows more serious with the passage of time and the continued absence of the two minor Rucki girls.
Update (10/28): LeftMN contributor and law professor David Schultz observes: a serious conflict of interest would exist if an attorney and her client are or could be charged for the same conduct; incentives would exist to conduct the representation in a manner to minimize the attorney’s exposure.
In such a situation, it is the duty of the attorney to disclose the conflict to a judge and request to be excused from the representation. If the attorney doesn’t do that, it would be prudent for the prosecutor to move for disqualification of the attorney. The conflict of interest could be grounds for the reversal of a conviction on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel.
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