Monday, March 20, 2006

Dean Johnson or Chief Justice Anderson -- Somebody is lying

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:54 PM |  

Both the St. Paul and Minneapolis papers are reporting on a “rare conversation with reporters” held by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Russell Anderson today.

The Strib is reporting that Anderson said “flatly that no member of the court -- including former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz -- ever spoke to Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson about the state's marriage laws.”
That is the strongest comment yet from the state Supreme Court. Official comment previously focused on the fact that “no commitment” was made to Johnson about the marriage amendment. Russell’s comments today puts Johnson in position of defending an “outright fabrication” rather than an embellishment of a conversation as he characterized his remarks. The only way he can do that is by calling a state Supreme Court justice a liar.
The Strib also reported --
Anderson, speaking publicly for the first time on the matter, said today that he was "incredulous" when he learned of Johnson's assertion, that justices had disclosed how they might handle an upcoming legal matter.

Calling from an out-of-state family vacation, Anderson told reporters emphatically that "I have talked with every member of my court, including the former chief justice and we have not had conversations with Sen. Johnson about DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) or how we might decide any matter relating to it. This just never happened. It [the alleged conversation] never occurred."

Anderson said that the need to maintain absolute impartiality is "ingrained" in judges, and that even in social settings and casual conversations, judges do not talk about issues that might come before the court.

"I have been a judge for 23 years and I have never been approached by a legislator, county commissioner, mayor, township officer, member of a city council or anyone, school board, asking me for a commitment or even a conversation about a matter that is before the court or that might come before the court," Anderson said. "We just don't do that in Minnesota."
As he did when I asked him for him to comment on his remarks recorded at New London, Johnson today told Star Tribune reporters that he would let his Friday statement stand and that he intended to “move on.”

The Strib also reported that the Senate DFL caucus held an impromptu meeting this morning and gave a unanimous vote of confidence in Johnson as their leader
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, said that Senate DFLers wanted to put at rest any questions about Johnson's continued leadership position. Rest said that "differing recollections" of conversations notwithstanding, "we voted unanimously and enthusiastically to support our majority leader now and in the future."
That decision, not the fact that Anderson spoke with the press and flatly disputed Johnson's story was the lead of the Pioneer Press story “Senate DFLers back majority leader after difficult week.”
Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson received the unanimous support of his Democratic colleagues today but the controversy continues over whether there was any truth to his tale of a conversation he had with state supreme court justice.
The Pioneer Press did get around to noting that Johnson has been backtracking most of the week.
Last week, he said he had embellished in January [at the pastors' meeting]. The truth is, he said in an emotional news conference, he only had a conversation with one justice who said in regard to the 1997 law, "Yeah, we have a law." But according to Minnesota Chief Justice Russell Anderson even that version may not be true.

Not only did no justice ever give Johnson any assurances, "There was no conversation about the Defense of Marriage Act," Anderson said during a conference call this morning with reporters.

"This just never happened," Anderson said. Judges, he said, have it ingrained in them never to discuss any matter that could come before them — and that includes the marriage law. He added that he was "incredulous" when he read that Johnson had alleged otherwise.

"I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing," Anderson said. "We just don't do that."

Even if Johnson's tale does not jive with the chief justice's, Senate Democrats today are standing firmly behind their leader.

"We had a unanimous vote to unequivocally and enthusiastically support Sen. Johnson now and in the future," said Assistant Majority Leader Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope. "It is as simple as that."
Put Rest down, along with Matt Entenza, as another person that just doesn’t get it. She told the Pioneer Press that no one in the DFL meeting expressed any doubts about Johnson's leadership. She said the continued differences between what Johnson and Anderson have said about discussions the senator had or didn't have with Supreme Court justices, "are for them to work out."

Excuse me, but this is not a dispute between two legislators over with a reducing a rate of the increase in funding is really a cut. This is a dispute over the integrity of the highest judicial court in the state. Given the Chief Justice's statements, if Johnson is going to redeem himself, his only recourse is to accuse at least some of the sitting justices and retired Chief Justice Blatz of lying in addition to his being party to their indescrition and using it for political gain. It may not be Johnson, but at this point, somebody is lying -- either the Senate Majority Leader of the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Neither is an attractive alternative for Minnesotans.

Somebody is going to have to fall on his sword before this is over. Simply “moving on” or leaving an ambiguous rift between Johnson and Chief Justice Anderson is unacceptable.