As part of the last official action for the Republican-controlled state Senate, lawmakers on Thursday approved paying a $90,000 legal bill to defend the Senate against a suit from an ex-employee.
All told, the Senate has paid more than $190,000 to deal with the suit from former Senate employee Michael Brodkorb. Brodkorb was fired in the wake of his affair with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch a year ago.
Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said the issue is "not fun" but they have been well served.
"It is been the goal to aggressively defend, to not settle based on the belief that this is without merit," said Senjem, R-Rochester. He said that if the Senate did settle with Brodkorb, who would have earned about half of the current legal bill had he be kept on, "it would be perceived to be...a cover-up."
Brodkorb is claiming gender discrimination played a role in his firing last year because past female legislative employees had affairs and were allowed to keep their jobs. To prove that claim, he would have to interview others who had affairs at the Legislature. His legal team may soon start seeking information from people who he claims were treated better, his attorney said.
Senate officials say Brodkorb was an "at will" employee who could be legally fired at any time. Senjem said it would be precedent setting if they settled, therefore it is in the best interest of Senate history to fight. The Senate panel, made up Wednesday of six Republicans and two Democrats, quickly approved paying the bill.
The most recent bill includes thousands of dollars for charges for court-ordered settlement talks that went nowhere. It also includes hundreds of dollars of fees to prepare a press release that was never released. If the case ends up in trial, the costs could rise even more quickly.
Republican officials said that the cost is worthwhile because they are winning.
"Assuming the Senate continues to prevail, to win," the Senate could actually recoup its legal fees from Brodkorb, Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said.
Michel was the deputy majority leader of the Senate when Brodkorb was fired. He did not run for re-election this year.
Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman backed up Michel's claim of victory so far because several of Brodkorb's initial claims have been dropped and a judge is deciding whether three more should be set aside.
Brodkrob said the claims of victory are "completely uninformed" and is Michel's "attempt to do damage control about his time as the leader of the Senate when the bulk of this situation arose."
Phil Villaume, Brodkorb's attorney, said the idea that anyone would declare victory at this point is "very premature."
"The case is far from being over," Villaume said.
Right now, the case is in what Ludeman said was a "holding pattern" as both sides wait for a federal judge's decision on whether the three claims should be set aside. In one of those claims, Brodkorb accused the senate secretary of defamation.
Villaume said he expects that decision in a few weeks.
"Once that's completed we proceed with discovery on the gender discrimination claim," he said.
After the judgment comes down, he said, their team will begin collecting information from the people Brodkorb claims had affairs and were treated differently. First they will seek written information then, he said, they will seek to interview people who have had legislative dalliances.