Senate GOP says lawsuit is delaying Michel ethics complaint

Senate President Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, said she’s going to delay a hearing on an ethics complaint filed against Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina.

Fischbach unilaterally canceled a hearing on Friday night and hasn’t scheduled another one. She said she has “temporarily postponed” the hearing.

“We’re being advised by counsel that there were certain places we should not or could not go during that committee hearing,” Fischbach said on the Senate floor. “Obviously this situation is unprecedented, and it certainly needs to be carefully handled.”

Fischbach declined comment and was quickly ushered away from reporters by Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca. Parry, a candidate for Congress in Minnesota’s 1st District, also tried to close a door in reporters’ faces as they were trying to question Fischbach. He relented after he was reminded that he was in a public office.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said that the hearing on Friday was cancelled at the advice of the Senate’s attorney.

“We’re not going to bring the Senate into a situation where we may damage ourself from the standpoint of the lawsuit,” Senjem said.

Senjem said the Senate won’t abandon the ethics complaint but will work with legal counsel on how to handle it.

The lawsuit in question hasn’t been filed yet. Former Republican Senate Caucus spokesman Michael Brodkorb is preparing a suit against the Senate. He claims that he was fired in December based on gender discrimination and is seeking at least $500,000 in damages.

The complaint against Michel focuses on whether Michel misled the public about when he learned about the affair between Brodkorb and former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch. Michel initially told reporters that he learned about the affair in early November about two weeks before he informed reporters at a Dec. 16 news conference. He later revised that statement after Koch’s former Chief of Staff Cullen Sheehan told MPR News that he informed Michel in September.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, filed the ethics complaint because she said Michel brought “dishonor and disrepute” to the Senate by not addressing the incident quickly enough. Michel insists he did nothing wrong.

The four member Ethics Subcommittee was deadlocked on the complaint on Friday. They were scheduled to meet again on Friday night, but Fischbach canceled that meeting.

Pappas, who has repeatedly questioned why the hearing was canceled on Friday, said she may amend the complaint to separate her allegation that Michel misled the public about the affair from the allegation that he didn’t act quickly enough.

“I’m thinking about that,” Pappas said. That’s a possibility. It’s not unprecedented to alter your complaint.”

The Ethics Subcommittee has to act on the complaint by April 18.

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