Rep. John Thompson, taking part in a Zoom hearing Friday, offered brief comments to the House Ethics Committee. (Image courtesy House Public Information Services)
Embattled lawmaker given until next week to find new attorney to represent him
The House Ethics Committee has paused until next week consideration of a complaint against embattled Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul, giving him time to hire a new attorney.
“I had an attorney,” he told the committee, “but I want to get another attorney.”
The four-member committee (with two alternates) is considering a complaint filed against Thompson by six GOP members. The allegations center on his public comments to just one of them.
Thompson is accused of maligning Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, by saying twice during a June 19 House floor debate, “I know you’re a racist.” Along with the five other Republican lawmakers, he filed the ethics complaint against Thompson on June 29.
The committee convened its first hearing on those charges today, within the required 21 days of the filing. But it agreed to pause the proceedings at Thompson’s request.
“These are waters I’ve never been in before,” Thompson said. “I’d like to ask for a little more time to get legal representation in here. I almost had it secured yesterday, but we had to have a follow-up meeting today.”
He said he hopes to have the new attorney hired by next week. The committee’s chair, Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, granted Thompson’s request for time to get that arranged.
Lucero, speaking for the complainants, exercised his option to present his case Friday. He was allotted 30 minutes, but wrapped up after just several minutes.
Though they are not part of his complaint, Lucero began by referring to “additional deeply disturbing revelations” regarding Thompson that “far outweigh the scope of this specific ethic complaint.” Davnie cautioned him against making any other similar remarks, because other incidents are not part of Lucero’s complaint.
Those additional allegations surfaced after Thompson was pulled over in St. Paul on July 4 for driving with no front license plate. He was found to be carrying a Wisconsin driver’s license, calling into question where Thompson maintains a legal residence.
Reporters began looking into his background and uncovered several past domestic abuse allegations against Thompson, dated between 2003 and 2011. He was never convicted on a domestic abuse charge.
After alluding to those reports, Lucero turned to the substance of his own complaint. He played the committee video of the June 19 floor debate. At the time, Lucero was speaking in support of a pro-police legislative amendment. During his remarks, Thompson repeatedly interrupted Lucero and allegedly twice told the Republican, “I know you’re a racist.”
“John Thompson’s comments were destructive to the integrity of this body and its adopted code of conduct,” he said. They also impugned Lucero’s character and reputation, Lucero said. He accused Thompson of acting upon “his implicit bias against me,” despite having received recent mandatory anti-bias training.
On the video, there is a lot of cross talk during the few moments when Thompson is heard uttering the remarks in question. The noise somewhat obscures them, but Lucero indicates he is confident of what he heard that day.
“John Thompson is a disgrace to this institution,” Lucero told the committee during Friday’s Zoom hearing. “It disappoints me that John Thompson’s actions have brought us to this point.”
He asked the committee to find probable cause that Thompson violated House rules “when he verbally maligned me.”
‘Dishonor or disrepute’
It’s not clear if Thompson was referring to attorney Jordan Kushner when he said he had a lawyer to represent him in the ethics proceedings before changing his mind.
Kushner represented Thompson in a recent misdemeanor trespassing and obstructing legal process case. Thompson was found guilty in that case earlier this week, placed on probation for six months and fined $200.
As that was ongoing, Kushner controversially defended Thompson against allegations of domestic abuse last weekend by accusing police of sending the media potentially doctored police reports detailing accusations of domestic abuse. The attorney supplied no evidence.
Under House Rule 6.10, complaints can be brought to the Ethics Committee if a House member is charged with conduct that violates accepted norms, betrays the public trust or “tends to bring the House into dishonor or disrepute.”
The House has the power to punish members under the Minnesota Constitution, if they engage in “disorderly behavior.”
Friday’s hearing was intended to find probable cause, but that process is now delayed until at least next week. The committee may continue hearing testimony and taking evidence as long as necessary to get its work done, according to House Research Director Patrick McCormack, who spoke to the committee Friday.
McCormack also affirmed that Thompson has a right to an attorney during the proceedings. “I think that is a paramount value that the House would want to maintain,” he said.
If the Ethics Committee ultimately finds probable cause that Thompson committed a violation, it could ask the full House to impose discipline, up to and including expulsion. If it finds no probable cause, the proceedings would end there.