Complaint filed against justices over Johnson flap

(AP) The dispute over who said what to whom on the gay marriage issue took a new turn Friday when a Golden Valley lawyer asked for official investigations into four current or former Supreme Court justices.

Greg Wersal said a probe is needed to sort out "grave questions of ethical violations by members of the state's highest court." The rolling controversy stems from a secretly made recording of Senate Majority Leader Johnson telling pastors he had assurances from justices that the current state law would withstand legal challenges.

Johnson, DFL-Willmar, was arguing a constitutional amendment on gay marriage was unnecessary. He apologized to the Senate Monday for making inaccurate statements about the extent of his talks with justices, but he hasn't backed off claims that some conversations took place.

Wersal asked the Board on Judicial Standards and the Lawyers Board of Professional Responsibility to look into Chief Justice Russell Anderson, Justice G. Barry Anderson, Justice Paul Anderson and former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz.

"The public needs to know if judges on our highest court have engaged in unethical conduct by giving pledges, promises, assurances or mere hints as to how they would rule on an issue likely to come before the court," Wersal wrote in a letter to the two boards. He released the letter to reporters.

Court spokesman John Kostouros said he hadn't seen the complaint and couldn't offer immediate comment. Chief Justice Anderson has unequivocally denied any conversations occurred between Johnson and any justices on the gay marriage issue.

The judicial standards board can dismiss a complaint, conduct an inquiry or order a public hearing. If it finds violations, it's up to the Supreme Court to impose sanctions. Proceedings of the 10-member board are confidential until a hearing is demanded by the judge or judicial officer who is the suject of an investigation.

The lawyers board also has latitude to investigate or dismiss complaints.

It's not the first time Wersal has taken on Supreme Court or its members. He twice tried and failed to win a seat on the Supreme Court during elections. And he was the driving force in a federal lawsuit that successfully eased restrictions on judicial campaigning.

Ironically, he helped persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Minnesota rules barring judicial candidates from talking about disputed legal and political issues during campaigns.

Wersal said in his letter that the 2002 decision doesn't allow judges to make pledges or promises on issues that are likely to come before them.

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