The Minnesota Republican Party will continue to support state Supreme Court candidate Michelle MacDonald despite her upcoming trial for alleged drunken driving and resisting arrest.
The party's executive board informed delegates on Friday, but also noted that the process leading to MacDonald's endorsement should be examined.
"In a party which respects the rule of law and the Constitution, we are not in a position to look backwards or change a decision which was made under the rules as they are," said an e-mail to delegates signed by the party's executive committee. "However, delegates should have the same opportunity to evaluate candidates being nominated for judicial endorsement as is currently afforded for candidates seeking other statewide offices."
The e-mail comes one week after the Star Tribune reported that MacDonald was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and resisting arrest last year. Her case will head to trial this fall during the general election. State GOP Chairman Keith Downey said last week he was unaware of MacDonald's 2013 arrest until notified by a reporter. The revelation came less than two weeks after party delegates in Rochester endorsed MacDonald to run against Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug, who has said publicly that judicial elections should remain nonpartisan.
MacDonald said she was not surprised at the party's decision.
"That was my expectation from the beginning," she said. "It is full-speed ahead and I expect to win and be the next Minnesota Supreme Court justice."
Although Downey said last week the majority of delegates and party leadership were unaware of the arrest, the state's 18-member Judicial Elections Committee did know about the case pending against her. MacDonald said that when she told her side of the story, she received near-unanimous support from the committee, which then recommended her endorsement.
In the e-mail, executive board members said that because many judicial candidates don't actively seek partisan endorsement, the nominating process for them is separate. Other statewide candidates go before a nominations committee and meet a 2 percent delegate signature threshold before standing for endorsement. Judicial candidates are nominated by the Judicial Elections Committee and brought directly to the state convention for endorsement.
The e-mail notes that McDonald declared her candidacy just four days before the state convention, giving the delegates little time to "understand her background and judicial philosophy." The e-mail added that the party will work to improve its system "so that at a minimum, the timeline of the judicial endorsement process is more in line with that of other offices."
MacDonald, an attorney and outspoken critic of the family court system, was arrested in April 2013 after refusing to exit her vehicle when pulled over by a Rosemount police officer who suspected her of drinking. After failing to take field sobriety and Breathalyzer tests, MacDonald was charged with third-degree test refusal, a gross misdemeanor, and fourth-degree drunken driving and resisting arrest — both misdemeanors. Trial is scheduled for Sept. 15 in Dakota County. MacDonald has said she was not drinking that night.
MacDonald has said she will continue her campaign, although she has raised no money and her website is still under construction. Lillehaug has raised $54,000, according to state campaign finance records. He declined to comment.
Although she appears on the state GOP website, MacDonald is absent from a second website launched this week to educate voters about absentee balloting.
On Thursday, before the executive board e-mail was sent, state Deputy Chair Chris Fields said he would support MacDonald. "Every single endorsed candidate, so long as they are endorsed by this party, I will do everything in my human power to get them across the finish line." he said.
Asked whether more delegates should have known about MacDonald's pending case, Fields said the Judicial Selection committee made its recommendation and "that's fine. That's the process."
He stopped short of saying whether that process should be changed.
"Any organization that doesn't look at its processes ultimately will become stale and stagnant."