DFLers cry foul after Republicans abruptly cancel Ethics hearing

The Senate Ethics Committee was scheduled to meet after the Senate floor session late Friday night but the meeting was abruptly canceled by Ethics Committee Chair Michelle Fischbach. Fischbach, a Republican from Paynesville, issued a statement saying she was not going to reconvene the hearing that focused on an ethics complaint against Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina.

“At this time, I do not intend to reconvene the Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct tonight,” Fischbach said in a statement. “It is under advice of counsel that we give them an opportunity to further consider the matter before proceeding with additional committee discussion.”

Fischbach’s statement said she will “honor Senate rules that state action must be taken within 30 days of receiving the complaint.” Her action surprised the two DFL members of the Ethics Committee, Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, and Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul.

Sheran and Harrington waited for an hour for an explanation as to why the committee wasn’t meeting, as planned. Sheran said she’s disappointed Fischbach canceled the meeting, which she said Fischbach didn’t have the authority to do.

“She wants to set the agenda by herself and she wants to control the outcome,” Sheran said.

The Ethics Committee, made up of two Republicans and two DFLers, was deadlocked on how to handle a complaint against Sen. Michel.

The complaint against Michel centers around whether he lied about when he knew about an affair between former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and former Senate Republican Caucus spokesman Michael Brodkorb. The complaint also alleged Michel should have acted more quickly when he learned of the affair. Michel says he has done nothing wrong.

Part of the reason the Ethics Committee is deadlocked is that members are reluctant to discuss issues involving Brodkorb. The Senate fired Brodkorb one day after Koch resigned her leadership position. Brodkorb has said he’s going to file a gender discrimination suit against the Senate because he argues female staffers who had affairs with male lawmakers did not lose their jobs.

Senate officials say Brodkorb was not fired because he had an affair with Koch but because the will was no longer there to employ the at-will employee.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem acknowledged that there appears to be some concern that the Ethics Committee could be opening itself up to additional litigation.

“Part of it (the hearing delay) is how much can be said at this hearing that could affect the other hearing (lawsuit),” Senjem said. “That’s a bit of a concern.”

Senjem declined comment when asked whether the Senate’s outside counsel expressed concerns that the hearing could open the Senate up to additional litigation.

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