Johnson repeats claim that talks with justices took place

WILLMAR -- Sen. Dean Johnson said he has no idea why the Minnesota Supreme Court justices lied about conversations that were held in his office about issues, including the marriage amendment.

WILLMAR -- Sen. Dean Johnson said he has no idea why the Minnesota Supreme Court justices lied about conversations that were held in his office about issues, including the marriage amendment.

"They have to answer for themselves," said Johnson on Wednesday in Willmar during a press conference with local media.

In January, Johnson, DFL-Willmar, was recorded at a New London-Spicer ministerial meeting saying that he had talked with justices who had assured him the state's existing anti-gay marriage law would not be overturned and therefore a constitutional amendment declaring marriage as between one man and one woman wasn't necessary.

As Senate majority leader, Johnson had been asked by his caucus to keep the marriage amendment off the November ballot because the issue would likely bring more conservative Republican voters to the polls.

Johnson later apologized to the Senate and the public, saying he had embellished the story about his discussions with the justices.


During the past week Johnson told two metro news organizations that the conversations had indeed taken place, even though Chief Justice Russell Anderson said earlier this year that they had not.

Johnson said Chief Justice Anderson's statement is "simply not true."

On Wednesday, Johnson said he had "professional discussions" with justices on three occasions -- two times in his office and one time in the Capitol Rotunda.

One conversation involved two justice and the others involved a single justice, he said.

During each of the three conversations with the justices, at least one other individual was present, he said. Those individuals have provided statements under oath.

There was nothing wrong with having conversations with the justices, said Johnson.

They were perfectly legal, he said, because the marriage issue was discussed in a general way, as well as other topics, like the budget for the Supreme Court.

Johnson said there were "no handshakes" and "no deals" made with the justices during those conversations regarding gay marriage.


"All I'm saying is there was discussions. (There were) professional, political discussions about these issues."

It's not uncommon, he said, for legislators to have general discussions with Supreme Court justices. "Legislators talk to judges all the time," he said, about issues "in generic terms."

Johnson said during repeated interviews, as well as during depositions submitted to the Ethics Committee, he "tried" to make it clear that the conversations with the justices did take place, but the information wasn't accepted during the hearing.

He said the information was provided to the Board of Judicial Standards but, he said, those records are not made public.

Johnson said he did make mistakes in how he handled the situation by telling people he had assurances from the court that the existing law wouldn't be overturned. That turn of events "cast a doubt in the minds of voters."

He said the issue was "blown out of proportion" and became part of the political game.

Two groups, the Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage and the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, have seized on the latest round of comments from Johnson.

"Johnson has reopened a can of worms that creates a potential state constitutional crisis," said Jeff Davis, president of the Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage, in a news release.


David Strom, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, said Johnson's allegations are explosive. "Not only is he accusing sitting Supreme Court justices of committing perjury, but he is suggesting that the Board of Judicial Standards is suppressing evidence."

Strom said the "possibility that Johnson is telling the truth suggests wide-ranging corruption of the judicial process."

Johnson said he didn't want to "go to my grave" without having it resolved "in my mind and the public's mind" that the conversations did occur.

He said he did not intend to carry the issue any further. "I've stated my case."

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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