MN Supreme Court candidate with DWI loses appeal

 Michelle MacDonald, the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate for Minnesota Supreme Court in 2014, shown after filing a complaint against the Republican Party. Attorney Greg Wersal is at left. Photo: Tom Scheck/MPR News.

A former candidate for Minnesota Supreme Court has lost her appeal stemming from a 2013 drunk driving arrest that surprised Republican officials in the state two weeks after endorsing her judicial bid.

Michelle MacDonald Shimota was stopped for speeding in April 2013 by a Rosemount police officer who said he detected an odor of alcohol. When he asked her to step out of the car , she grabbed her steering wheel, her gear shift knob, and a police officer’s wrist to prevent the officer from removing her.

She appealed her subsequent conviction of obstructing justice and refusing to take a breath test because she wasn’t taken before a judge immediately and she was denied permission to videotape her trial.

She argues this provision in the state law:

When any person is arrested for any violation of any law or ordinance relating to the operation or registration of vehicles . . . the arrested person shall be taken into custody and immediately taken before a judge within the county in which the offense charged is alleged to have been committed and who has jurisdiction over the offenses and is nearest or most accessible with reference to the place where the arrest is made, in any of the following cases:

(1) when a person arrested demands an immediate appearance before a judge;

. . . .
(4) when the person is arrested upon a charge of driving or operating or being in actual physical control of any motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs.

As often is the case, the court turned to the most important book in law: the dictionary.

Judge Kevin Ross used it to consider the meaning of immediately in rejecting her appeal.

And when the term refers to events, although “immediately” might mean “[o]ccurring without delay; instant,” Black’s Law Dictionary 816 (9th ed. 2009), as Shimota argues, the context might instead imply a longer period. For example, everyone would envision an instantaneous occurrence when reading that a patient’s leg elevated “immediately” after her doctor struck her tendon with a reflex hammer. But no one imagines instantaneous behavior when the context suggests otherwise, like when the supreme court says, “Slavik and Wall immediately appealed the district court’s grant of summary judgment.” Wall v. Fairview Hosp. & Healthcare Servs., 584 N.W.2d 395, 401 n.2 (Minn. 1998). “Immediately” in that circumstance likely contemplates a matter of hours or even days, not seconds or minutes. In sum, “immediate” events might be separated either by short or long periods, depending on the context. The adjective informs us only that no significant related event has intervened.

“We therefore cannot agree with Shimota that the legislature intended that officers take drunk drivers straight to a judge, interrupting or preventing the administrative duties that must be completed before the arrest process ends,” Ross wrote in today’s decision (pdf).

Besides, he said, Shimota was released from custody immediately after being booked.

She also argued that she couldn’t be charged with obstruction of justice because her actions weren’t directed at a police officer. Ross also turned aside that claim.

But the statute does not require proof that the offender directed her force at anyone in particular. As a matter of law, requiring the state to prove that the defendant directed her force at a police officer rather than at an inanimate object would render meaningless the statute’s differentiation between obstruction based on an act “accompanied by force or violence or the threat thereof” and obstruction “in all other cases.”

Her arrest embarrassed the Republican Party, which had endorsed her bid to unseat Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug. She later claimed the party leaders orchestrated a campaign to convince her to repudiate its endorsement.

Because she refused the breath test, she lost her driver’s license. Weeks before the election, she was ticketed in Wright County for not having one.

She lost the election.