Former Rep. John Lesch apologizes to St. Paul City Attorney Lyndsey Olson after court settlement – InForum
A four-year-old legal libel case between St. Paul City Attorney Lyndsey Olson and a former St. Paul lawmaker has been settled out of court. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but John Lesch, a former state representative, wrote Olson a letter of apology and shared it with the office of St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter.
Olson will also receive an undisclosed sum of money from Lesch.
“I appreciate the closure brought by the letter,” Olson said Friday. “Receiving an apology is the right outcome.”
The lawsuit centered on allegedly derogatory remarks Lesch made about Olson in January 2018, in a far-reaching letter to newly elected St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, listing reasons Olson would be a bad guy. choice for the city attorney.
Lesch, who previously served in the city attorney’s office and alongside Olson in the Minnesota National Guard, questioned his standing in the MN Guard Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He also asked the mayor about Olson’s disciplinary history with the Guard.
Carter ignored Lesch’s advice, and a few weeks later Olson sued Lesch for defamation. She argued that he went too far in both contacting his employer and raising unsubstantiated allegations of alleged misconduct.
Olson, in her lawsuit, noted that as the Guard’s first female general counsel, she had been harassed by men who made repeated sexual advances to her or felt they had been passed over for promotion because from her. The men filed two complaints, neither of which resulted in action against her.
“This case involves issues of ongoing gender discrimination that permeate our society and disrupt the progress and advancement of women into professional leadership positions,” Olson wrote in the lawsuit.
Rather than proceeding to a jury trial, the libel case followed a winding path through the Minnesota Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court, which considered whether Lesch, who was then a serving member of the House, enjoyed “legislative immunity” from libel claims. by virtue of his position. Three levels of courts rejected his arguments.
As a lawmaker, Lesch had argued, he could not be sued for defamation for making official statements, such as giving a speech in the House to defend a certain political position. The courts viewed Lesch’s three-page letter to Carter — which was written on official state letterhead — in a different light, noting that while it touched on lobbying and other matters official, it was essentially a personal note to the mayor.
“Not all statements of opinion are constitutionally protected speech,” Hennepin County District Court Judge Francis Magill wrote in September 2018, later adding, “The allegedly defamatory communication was not a communication or legislative act.
The state Supreme Court agreed, and the case was returned to Hennepin County District Court, where it was delayed by multiple requests to the National Guard for redacted documents.
On May 18, after a day of court-ordered mediation, Lesch notified the mayor’s office in writing that he was sorry about the letter he wrote on January 3, 2018:
“Since writing this letter, I have been advised that the negative comments included in my correspondence with you, regarding St. Paul’s City Attorney, Lyndsey Olson, referred to complaints that made the under investigation and which were not retained. If I had known this at the time, I would not have made the negative comments I made in the letter. Additionally, none of the matters investigated involved complaints of prosecutorial misconduct or the use of his position in an unfair or unethical case.
“I am sorry for any embarrassment or discomfort my comments in the letter may have caused Ms. Olson.”
Reached by phone Friday, Lesch’s attorney, Marshall Tanick, confirmed the case was settled and dismissed without further comment.
Lesch, who was first elected to represent House District 66B in 2002, served nine terms. In 2020, while appealing his case to the Minnesota Supreme Court, he won the DFL’s endorsement for re-election, but lost his seat in the political primary to fellow DFLer Athena Hollins.
Olson, an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, last year became the first woman to reach the rank of colonel in the Minnesota National Guard’s Judge Advocate General Corps. She is also the first woman to serve as a staff judge advocate for the 34th Infantry Division.
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