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'Pro bono' legal work for 2011 shutdown cost Minnesota $77,000

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under Minnesota governor, Gov. Mark Dayton, Democrats Updated: January 16, 2014 - 7:27 PM

When Gov. Mark Dayton contracted with prominent attorney David Lillehaug in 2011 to handle the legal issues arising out of the state government shutdown, the governor's office said Lillehaug's work would be pro bono.

The news release announcing the contract defined pro bono as "without cost to the state."

But after that July shutdown ended, the governor agreed to change the contract with Lillehaug.

"In August 2011, the Governor signed an amendment that changed the engagement from pro bono to billable services," a report from the state's Legislative Auditor said on Thursday. "The office paid the firm about $77,000 for those services."

Dayton's communications director Bob Hume on Thursday said the arrangement with Lillehaug went from pro bono to paid after Lillehaug's role dramatically changed as the shutdown wore on.

“At the time we had every expectation that our legal services would be provided by the Attorney General. When we learned that she was going to take a position on her own initiative, which she had a valid right to do, we had to make other arrangements for representation," Hume said.

Dayton and Attorney General Lori Swanson had dramatically different legal opinions on what the state could legally keep open during what turned into a 20-day government shutdown. Lillehaug initially was going to consult with the governor about the shutdown and, in part because of those differences, ended up becoming his primary attorney.

That change, the fact that the governor's general counsel had recently retired, and the lengthy negotiations over what services should be opened and closed meant that Lillehaug's scope of work greatly expanded, Hume said.

Lillehaug is a former U.S. Attorney who had long represented Democrats, including Dayton, in campaign and election matters. Last year, Dayton appointed Lillehaug to the state Supreme Court.

Hume said that Lillehaug did a "superb job" in handling shutdown-related matters and the state received great value for his service.

"It is a decision we stand by," Hume said.

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