DFL Sen. Nicole Mitchell pleads the Fifth at ethics hearing for burglary arrest 

The committee deferred taking action on the ethics complaint until it meets again in June.

Sen. Nicole Mitchell appears with attorney Bruce Ringstrom Jr. before the Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct Tuesday. (Minnesota Senate Media Services)

Democratic Minnesota Sen. Nicole Mitchell didn’t speak once — with the exception of saying “I do” when she was put under oath — when she appeared with her attorneys before a Senate ethics panel Tuesday evening.

The embattled first-term senator from Woodbury was charged with felony first-degree burglary last month and was accused of breaking into her elderly stepmother’s Detroit Lakes home in the early hours of the morning on April 22.

Her arrest has upended the final days of the legislative session as Republicans argue she should resign or face discipline from the chamber.

As such, a group of GOP senators filed an ethics complaint against Mitchell that accuses her of violating the Senate’s ethical standards.

Tuesday’s panel — consisting of two Democratic senators and two Republicans — was tasked with gathering testimony from the involved parties, allowing time for questioning, and determining whether to proceed with an investigation.

These efforts were complicated by the fact that Mitchell’s attorney, Bruce Ringstrom Jr., stated at the outset that his client would be invoking her Fifth Amendment right.

“For an elected public figure, there are competing interests, but the senator is taking our advice and invoking her right to remain silent. Sen. Mitchell, therefore, pleads the Fifth Amendment to every single question, however innocuous or theoretically collateral it may be,” Ringstrom said. “This is a blanket invocation. Sen. Mitchell will be answering no questions. Period.”

Ringstrom and the filers of the complaint, represented by Sens. Eric Lucero, R-St. Michael, and Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, were each allowed to present their case and ask questions of the opposing side.

“A revolution was fought to secure the due process many are asking Sen. Mitchell to forego,” Ringstrom said. “This case belongs in court. Then it can be dealt with by this subcommittee.”

Sens. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, and Andrew Mathews, R-Princeton, both members of the committee, nonetheless proceeded to grill Mitchell and her attorneys with a series of questions related to the facts of the case, most of which they declined to answer.

Mathews criticized Ringstrom’s “inflammatory” presentation in which the attorney suggested the ethics committee was “participating in a witch hunt.”

“This allegation that we are not allowed to engage in fact-finding at this stage is ludicrous, Mr. Chair,” Mathews said. “The Senate can take action on a member for conduct that is far less than a criminal charge … the Senate should not and ought not be bullied into being told what we can and cannot do.”

Later in the hearing, Mathews called out Democratic Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, who chairs the committee, for taking “wide latitude on deciding whether or not members can even ask certain questions.” This came after Champion objected to multiple questions asked by Sen. Housley.

“It is never easy to stand in judgment of a colleague, however, our responsibility requires us to make difficult decisions. We are not asking you to serve as a court of law. We are asking you to uphold the integrity of this institution and restore public trust,” Sen. Lucero said in his closing statement.

The committee was deadlocked on a motion to find probable cause to continue the investigation and another to defer proceedings until the criminal case is complete. A motion to find no probable cause was defeated 4-0. After a brief recess, the committee voted to return on June 12 to discuss next steps. That’s two days after Mitchell’s next court appearance.

“Sen. Mitchell was silent before the ethics committee, her colleagues, and her constituents,” Housley said. “It’s clear the most important thing to her is being the 34th vote on the Democrats’ agenda.”

Democrats control the Minnesota Senate by just one seat.


Anthony Gockowski

Anthony Gockowski is Editor-in-Chief of Alpha News. He previously worked as an editor for The Minnesota Sun and Campus Reform, and wrote for the Daily Caller.