PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Suspended Republican Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller filed a lawsuit just minutes before the Senate was set to meet Monday.

The lawsuit is filed against President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck and alleges that Frye-Mueller’s suspension violated the 2023 approved Rules of the Senate.

Frye-Mueller, who is being represented by former lawmaker Steven Haugaard, states that the “chilling effect and actual denial” of Frye-Mueller’s protected speech and other constitutional rights are causing “irreversible damage to her and her constituents.”

You can read the full complaint and affidavit here.

With Monday’s session gaveled in, Sen. Schoenbeck moved to amend the 2023 approved rules which was seconded by another lawmaker.

The proposed amendments are to address a personnel matter, no different than any other employer in South Dakota matter, Schoenbeck added. This includes electronic communications.

Senator Pischke urged the Senate to vote no to the rules proposed by Schoenbeck.

“Now all of a sudden the rules aren’t good enough,” Pischke said. “This is: change the rules in the middle of the game.”

By a vote of 27-7, the motion to amend the rules was passed by the Senate.

The ‘nays’ were Arch Beal, R-Sioux Falls; Red Dawn Foster, D-Pine Ridge; Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen; Tom Pischke, R-Dell Rapids; John Wiik, R-Big Stone City; Dean Wink, R-Howes; and Larry Zikmund, R-Sioux Falls. 

Following the vote, Pischke asked to reinstate Frye-Mueller in light of her lawsuit and delay the Select Committee.

“Right now, we have disenfranchised voters out in District 30,” Pischke said, asking the Senate to vote to pass the motion.

The motion failed 12-22. The yeas were Beal; Jessica Castleberry, R-Rapid City; Mike Diedrich, R-Rapid City; Foster; Brent Hoffman, R-Sioux Falls; Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton; Joshua Klumb, R-Mitchell; Novstrup; Pischke; Wiik, Wink; and Zikmund

The inciting incident

Last week Frye-Mueller was stripped of her committee assignments and her voting rights following an altercation with a Legislative Research Council staff member. The conversation allegedly centered around childhood vaccines and breastfeeding.

A statement from the staff member alleges that Frye-Mueller and her husband Mike Mueller entered her office on January 24 to discuss a piece of legislation that was being drafted. The staffer called the presence of the lawmaker’s spouse “unusual.”

According to the statement, the staffer had been told multiple times by Mueller that he was “very protective of his wife” and that she should “be careful of what I say or do in his presence.” The staff member reported feeling uncomfortable.

The conversation quickly turned from the drafted bill to the staff member’s child and whether he was vaccinated.

“I told her ‘yes.’ Without allowing me to elaborate further, she proceeded to point her finger at me and aggressively say that this will cause him issues,” the statement alleges. Frye-Mueller then allegedly told the staff member that her baby could “get down syndrome, or autism” and that he will “die from those vaccines.”

The conversation then turned to whether the staff member was breastfeeding to which she said no, she was formula feeding.

“I was told by Senator Frye-Mueller that my husband could ‘suck on my breasts’ to get milk to come in. She indicated ‘a good time for that is at night.’ She proceed to provide hand gestures to her chest area and motion to her husband to see if he agreed. He smiled and nodded,” the staff member alleged.

The suspended senator then became more “emotional and aggressive,” the staffer said while continuing to tell her that she cannot let her child be vaccinated. The staff member then told Frye-Mueller that she would think about what she had said, “in the hope that it would end the conversation and not upset her any further.”

LRC staff member’s statement in Sen. Frye-Mueller matter

Friday, a Senate Select Committee comprised of Republicans David Wheeler, Jim Bolin, Sydney Davis, Helene Duhamel, Brent Hoffman, Tim Reed, Dean Wink as well as Democrats Red Dawn Foster and Liz Larson was announced. The committee will make a full report to the Senate by the end of this week.

Saturday, the suspended senator held a press conference in Rapid City for the first time since the incident.

“…This does not condone the extreme egregious actions that the South Dakota State Senate has taken against me and disenfranchising the great people of District 30 and their right to representation in the Senate,” Frye-Mueller said.

First meeting of Senate Select Committee

Suspended Republican Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller (gray sweater) speaks with supporters minutes before first meeting of Senate disciplinary committee Monday evening.
Suspended Republican Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller (gray sweater) speaks with supporters minutes before first meeting of Senate disciplinary committee Monday evening.

During a meeting of the Senate Select Committee Monday evening, the group made plans to meet again on Tuesday. Sen. Wheeler says the committee will meet in executive session to hear testimony from the LRC employee regarding the incident. Both the employee and Frye-Mueller will be able to have their lawyers present. All senators are also able to be in the executive session.

The committee will come out of executive session once that testimony is finished and the rest of the meeting will be open to the public. Wheeler says a redacted transcript of what is said in executive session will be released.

KELOLAND’s Dan Santella and Capitol Bureau reporter Bob Mercer contributed to this report.