GOP should shoulder responsibility for cleaning up this mess.
It's been more than seven months since a sex scandal at the top of the Minnesota Senate Republican caucus erupted into the headlines and removed Sen. Amy Koch from the majority leader's office. Regrettably, the hits from that embarrassment keep coming -- on a vital public institution and the public purse.
Michael Brodkorb, the other principal actor in the saga, filed a long-threatened lawsuit last week. He seeks six-figure recompense for what he claims was gender discrimination and defamation in connection with his dismissal in mid-December from a senior staffer role in the GOP majority caucus.
His legal offensive is likely to be offensive indeed. Proving his case appears likely to involve uncovering tawdry tales of sexual indiscretions by other senators and staffers through the years to demonstrate that he was treated more harshly than others similarly entwined. It's a despicable threat that, if carried out, will do public respect for state government no good.
Meanwhile, the legal fees charged to the Senate -- that is, to taxpayers -- for preparing to defend the Senate and its operations chief, Cal Ludeman, from that suit had reached $84,600 through May. They surely topped $100,000 before Brodkorb's suit was filed. The meter is still running.
State statutes and Senate precedent say that the legal defense costs associated with employment-related suits are to be borne by the taxpayers. But decency and a sense of responsibility for public funds ought to say otherwise in this unusual case.
The Koch-Brodkorb episode was a matter entirely internal to the Senate GOP family. Senate Republicans should feel obliged to spare taxpayers from the cost associated with cleaning up the mess.
Weeks ago, Senate DFL leader Tom Bakk recommended that the majority caucus establish a separate legal-defense fund, filled with donated dollars, to spare taxpayers from some or all of the costs associated with Brodkorb's suit.
That would be a problematic move, since it involves relying on the largesse of special-interest groups with GOP leanings and thereby adding to the sway they already have on the party. But problematic moves are the only kind available in this situation, and for that, Republicans can only blame their own poor personnel judgment.
It's worth noting that the state Republican Party is scrambling this summer to raise money from supporters to pay off debts accumulated when Brodkorb was the party's deputy chair, a position he resigned last fall.
Keep taxpayers on the hook for the legal-defense bills, and Senate Republicans will face understandable suspicion that their lawsuit response is driven primarily by a desire to minimize political embarrassment, not by fiscal prudence. That will only add to the charge that the tab is draining funds better directed to nobler state purposes.
We have mixed views about the Senate GOP's legal strategy going forward. An out-of-court settlement has some appeal for its ability to cap the financial losses and end Brodkorb's threat to enlarge the damage that this matter has already caused.
But we also recoil from the precedent that would be set by an early settlement. It would tell any future disgruntled legislative employee that politicians are so averse to potentially damaging accusations in a court of law that they will respond to any legal threat with a generous check, regardless of its merits.
The merits of Brodkorb's case strike us as weak. He was an "at will" employee, and the person at whose will he had been employed had resigned her position and no longer had personnel authority.
Her successor did not want Brodkorb's continued presence on the staff. That's what "at will" means. Further, legislators have some measure of legal immunity from charges that spring from the conduct of their official duties.
Those considerations likely have GOP caucus leaders expecting an early dismissal of this case. That's an outcome to root for.
But as the accumulating pile of legal bills shows, even that outcome won't be cheap. Senate Majority Leader David Senjem assures (see box, above) that he and other Republican leaders are proceeding with an eye toward minimizing taxpayer liability. They would do better to get the taxpayers off the hook altogether.
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