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Legislator Arrested
by Mike Mulcahy
March 3, 2000
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Republican leaders of the Minnesota House are trying to decide what to do about one of their members after he was charged with three counts of criminal sexual conduct. Republican Jim Rostberg is accused of repeated sexual assaults on a juvenile.

Jim Rostberg
Elected: 1994
Biography: Born in 1956. Married to Kathy, two children (Jacob and LeeAnn). Catholic. Veterans Service Officer and Emergency Management Director, Isanti County.
Education: Sandstone High School. Cambridge Community College. Metropolitan State University.
Web site:
Source: Politics in Minnesota Directory
JIM ROSTBERG made a brief appearence in Isanti County District Court on first and second degree criminal sexual conduct charges. The complaint alleges that he sexually touched a juvenile, who's now 14, numerous times over several years. He did not enter a plea. Rostberg's lawyer Douglas Sauter says his client is not guilty.

The first-degree charge against Rostberg is punishable by a $40,000 fine, 30 years in prison or both. The maximum penalty for each of the two second-degree charges is $35,000, 25 years in prison or both.

Rostberg was called off the House floor by Anoka County deputies and arrested Thursday at the Capitol. His Republican colleagues began Friday with an emotional meeting to discuss how to respond to the situation. Lawmakers openly wept as Rochester Representative Fran Bradley leaned into a microphone to close the meeting with a prayer.

GOP House Speaker Steve Sviggum said if there was compelling physical evidence against him, he would ask Rostberg to resign. But the complaint doesn't cite physical evidence. Still, House leaders say they will file an ethics complaint against Rostberg. Sviggum says the allegations are serious. "I told my caucus a year and a half ago when we became the majority to keep their noses clean," Sviggum said. "I also told them at that time that if they didn't keep their noses clean they wouldn't have to worry about the opposing party, the Democrats coming after them. I would be after them."

Rostberg's colleagues seemed stunned by the news of the allegations. He was first elected in 1994, and even though he is vice chair of the Governmental Operations and Veterans Affairs Committee, he keeps a relatively low profile.

"He's been a very decent honorable person - probably more quiet than open; a person that I've had a great deal of trust in. Nothing that would have indicated there would have been a problem such as this that would exist.""

- Steve Sviggum
Others Republicans say the charges are just allegations right now, and that House leaders should avoid a rush to judgment before all the facts are known.

Four years ago, Republicans filed a number of ethics complaints against DFLers in a highly-partisan atmosphere. Republicans say they want to avoid a similar situation with the Rostberg case, and if it comes to it they may ask DFLers to join them in an ethics complaint. House DFL Minority Leader Tom Pugh says based on the complaint he would not call for Rostberg's immediate resignations. Pugh says he does not want politics to play a part in the case.

"This is perhaps the most serious allegation against a sitting legislator in the history of the Minnesota Legislature and we don't think we've got to make politics out it," Pugh said.

Even if both sides succeed in keeping politics out of the ethics process, there are practical political concerns already attached to his absence. GOP Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty says it could be tough for the Republicans to pass major bills for the rest of this session. "We run the House, we have a majority by one; two people can hijack our caucus now," he said.

Pawlenty says he's trying to encourage the Republicans to stick together and keep their minds on the business of the session. It's a job that may become more difficult over the next few days as details of the allegations against Rostberg become public.