Attorneys for DFL state Rep. John Lesch and St. Paul City Attorney Lyndsey Olson appeared in court Friday to argue whether the defamation case that Olson brought against Lesch this winter should be dismissed.
Judge Frank Magill took the case under advisement after a half-hour hearing Friday.
Olson filed the lawsuit against Lesch in Ramsey County District Court in February. It alleges that Lesch began a campaign to attack Olson’s credentials and depose her from the city attorney job soon after St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter announced that he was appointing her to the position.
Lesch wrote a letter to Carter on Jan. 3 expressing concerns about the mayor’s hiring process for department heads and casting doubt on Olson’s work history. In the letter, Lesch accused Olson of being “a prosecutor who would sacrifice justice in pursuit of a political win — even going so far as to commit misconduct to do so.”
Marshall Tanick, Lesch’s attorney, argued in a May 31 memorandum that the lawsuit should be dismissed because Olson’s complaint failed to specify exactly what Lesch said or wrote that was defamatory.
“Plaintiff states that Rep. Lesch made various false and defamatory statements, which have harmed her reputation,” Tanick wrote. “But the Complaint does not state which particular statements are alleged to be defamatory.”
Tanick also argued that Lesch’s speech is protected by the First Amendment as well as by the Minnesota Constitution, which includes a clause protecting legislators from being sued for things they do in their work as legislators.
Lesch’s letter to Carter, written on Minnesota House of Representatives letterhead, mentioned the upcoming legislative session and government data practices, which relate to Lesch’s work as a legislator, Tanick argued.
In a June 20 memorandum, Olson’s attorney, Lisa Lamm Bachman, countered that Lesch, who marked the letter “Personal and confidential” and emphasized that it was a private matter between himself and Carter, was acting as an individual and not in his capacity as a legislator.
Bachman also argued that Olson’s lawsuit clearly stated the portions of Lesch’s letter that she considered defamatory.