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No clarity on when Senate ethics committee may meet again

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under Minnesota campaigns, Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, Democrats, Republicans Updated: March 27, 2012 - 3:42 PM

After an aborted ethics committee and four days of quiet, it is still not clear if or when the Senate ethics committee will resume deliberations of a complaint against a former top Republican member.

Last week, the ethics committee assigned to judge whether GOP Sen. Geoff Michel lied or dishonored the Senate when he handled the affair between former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and Michael Brodkorb deadlocked after an afternoon session. It was to resume deliberations late Friday but the two GOP members of the committee never showed up for the meeting, leaving the two DFL members waiting until past 10 p.m.

Sen. Michelle Fischbach, the chair of the ethics committee, told members that she had no specific plans yet to restart the deliberations.

"We were being advised by counsel there were certain places we should not or could not go during that committee hearing. Obviously the situation is unprecedented in front of the Senate and it certainly needs to be carefully handled. So at this point I have postponed further subcommittee meetings to allow the senate's outside counsel," Fischbach, R-Paynesville, said during a Tuesday afternoon floor session.

Koch resigned from leadership late last year, Michel lost his leadership post and Brodkorb was fired the day after Koch resigned. Brodkorb has taken steps to sue the Senate over his termination.

After the Senate session, when Fischbach was off the floor, Fischbach was hustled away from reporters waiting for further clarity.

"I'm meeting with a constituent for a few minutes and I won't be making any comment," she said as she left the Senate floor.

Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, then took her by the arm and began walking away from the reporters.

A reporter asked Parry if he was pulling her away from the reporters. Parry responded that he had a question for her. He then hustled her into an office and worked to close the door as reporters tried to follow. A reporter told Parry it was a public office and he relented, then he, Fischbach and a constituent went into a back office.

Fischbach was heard asking Parry if he "had a real question" and then the door closed so that reporters could hear no more. A few minutes later she had left.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, offered no more clarity.

"I can't resolve it, I'm not on the committee. How do we proceed?...We want to have certainly more discussion with outside counsel," Senjem said. "There are four people that can resolve that and they are on the ethics committee."

Although he said earlier that the legislative session was on a "glide path" toward conclusion, he said the ethics committee could continue meeting after session ends.

In the meantime, he said, "We not going to bring the Senate into a situation where we may damage ourself from the standpoint of the lawsuit."

During floor discussion on the issue, he told members the Senate was on a "path" to resolving the issue.

"I think we have a situation before us that I think needs to be handled gently and appropriately and I think we are on a path to doing that. Senjem told members.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, the St. Paul DFLer who made the complaint against Michel, told her colleagues Tuesday that resolving the ethics matter "in a transparent way is in the best interest of the Senate."

Pappas said she is considering dividing the complaint she filed last week so that the parts that could impinge on areas of the potential litigation would be kept separate.

"I'm thinking about that," Pappas said.

She said even if she did that, the ethics committee would still have to resolve the issue by mid-April. Senate rules give the ethics committee 30 days to resolve complaints that come before it.

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