A Minnesota state lawmaker is asking a judge to dismiss a defamation suit filed by another public official.
St. Paul City Attorney Lyndsey Olson sued Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, last month.
Olson claims a letter Lesch sent to Mayor Melvin Carter in January defamed her by questioning her fitness for the city attorney's job and insinuating that she would go "so far as to commit misconduct" in pursuit of a political win while a lawyer in the Minnesota National Guard.
Lesch is also an attorney and was a member of the Guard. Olson is still serving, however she said she never worked with Lesch.
Marshall Tanick, Lesch's attorney, said Olson's lawsuit does not allege "with specificity" what she claims to be defamatory. Tanick said Lesch's statements are opinions protected by the First Amendment, and they are also protected by the Minnesota Constitution's "speech or debate" clause that shields lawmakers.
"The courts have construed that clause very broadly to cover any activities that elected legislative officials undertake that are related to the performance of their job," Tanick said.
But attorney Lisa Lamm Bachman, who represents Olson, said Lesch's statements are not protected legislative speech because they have nothing to do with his work as a lawmaker.
"I don't think you can just claim legislative immunity by placing a defamatory statement on your letterhead as a state legislator," Bachman said.
In an interview with MPR News last month, Olson said Lesch's letter was an extension of the bullying and sex discrimination she faced from men throughout her 17 years in the Guard.
She said a "coordinated group of males" launched a rumor and disinformation campaign against her. These included anonymous complaints to the inspector general that were investigated and determined to be unsubstantiated.
"Rep. Lesch wrote down on paper as though they were fact things that had been in this rumor campaign to my new boss with the suggestion that I basically be fired," Olson said.
In a op-ed published in the Pioneer Press Thursday, former Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General Rick Nash defended Olson, calling Lesch's letter "nothing less than a bullying and misinformation campaign."
Mayor Carter has defended Olson as well, saying in a Feb. 16 statement that he has "full faith and confidence" in her ability to serve as city attorney.
In a statement last month, Lesch said he is "confident this case will be dismissed for the frivolity it represents."