Frye-Mueller censured, reinstated by legislature

Leslie Silverman
District 30 constituents once again have representation in the state Senate after Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller was reinstated.
In a unanimous decision the South Dakota State Senate’s “Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion” voted to recommend to censure and reinstate the Frye-Mueller. The vote would limit her access to the Legislative Research Council (LRC) office and its staff for the remainder of the legislative session.
The committee proceedings, which took place in the evening of Jan. 31, began by moving into executive session to hear testimony from the LRC staffer.
After coming out of executive session Sen. Sydney Davis (R-Burbank) read the LRC staff employee statement regarding the Jan 24 incident.
Former House Speaker Steve Haugaard, representing Frye-Mueller, then addressed the committee wondering “how can  you  proceed as you have without the opportunity for counsel to explore the background of this?” and “without the opportunity to call witnesses. There’s been a shield around this process,” Haugaard said.
The committee did hear from Frye-Mueller herself who contradicted the staffer’s statement, giving a personal account of the situation.
‘“I asked if she goes home at lunch time to see her little guy, then just out of the blue she said ‘well I can’t nurse him,’” she said.
Frye-Muller elaborated further.
“I asked her if it would be OK to tell her what a family member told me and she said yes,” adding, “but she said yes, otherwise I wouldn’t have said it.”
Frye-Meuller was then asked to answer a series of yes or no questions regarding her testimony by Sen. Erin Tobin (R-Winner).
“I’m not going to talk about it,” Frye-Mueller said at one point claiming the language in the staffer’s statement was not correct, and later calling the specifics of the alleged conversation “sick.”
Frye-Mueller asserted her position repeatedly.
“I had no ill intentions of saying anything and I sure as heck didn’t say anything that was in that release,” she said.
Sen Helene Duhamel of Rapid City asked Frye-Mueller, “were you friends with this staffer?”
Frye-Mueller began to tear up as she answered “I thought we were friends.”
The nature of the relationship between Frye-Mueller and the staffer was repeatedly addressed with the former indicating she had no reason to believe the staffer was uncomfortable with the conversation. “I would have thought she was perfectly comfortable.”
Husband Mike Mueller who was present in the room during the conversation testified on behalf of his wife corroborating her story. 
“We never saw body language...that reflected she (the LRC staffer) was uncomfortable,” he said.
The select committee unanimously determined that Frye-Mueller did engage in harassment, and that “the harassment had the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual employee’s work performance and creating an intimidating working environment in the LRC,” according to a statement released by Senate GOP leader Sen Casey Crabtree.
The full Senate concurred with the Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion’s recommendation of censure by a vote of 33-1.
Frye-Mueller released her own statement after the Senate’s decision expressing how thankful she was to return to representing her constituents. She reiterated that the “language contained in the staff person’s statement was shocking and filthy and is not what I said or conveyed.”
She went on to question the nature of the process calling the actions of the Senate “unprecedented.”
“If lawmakers can silence me without any due process and by ignoring the law, or suspending the rules and laws we instituted, why do we make such laws? Their failure to respond to my continued requests clearly appears to be an orchestrated attempt to obstruct my ability to defend myself and is politically motivated,” she said.

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