Capitol affairs are in Michael Brodkorb's cross hairs

To prove he was treated differently, fired staffer Michael Brodkorb is threatening to seek sworn statements from others who have had trysts.

Fired Minnesota Senate staffer Michael Brodkorb is threatening to seek sworn statements from legislators and staffers who may have had trysts to prove he was treated differently for having an affair with former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.

Brodkorb is a longtime GOP operative whose work as a blogger and strategist played a role in bringing Republicans to power at the Capitol. His attorneys say they are prepared to take sworn depositions from romantically linked legislators and subordinates in order to help his potential gender-discrimination lawsuit. Brodkorb is seeking more than $500,000 in damages and legal costs, and his suit is based on what his attorney called "new and creative" legal reasoning.

The political and legal fallout of Brodkorb's threat, which rocked the Capitol on Thursday, came a day after Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman released a sternly worded statement saying there would be no negotiated settlement with Brodkorb regarding his termination.

Brodkorb lawyer Phil Villaume summoned journalists to his office Thursday, vowing "to come out and fight back."

Who would be deposed?

The aftershocks of the Koch-Brodkorb relationship has lingered at the Capitol since late last year, when the Republican from Buffalo announced she was stepping down as leader. The next day, Ludeman confronted Brodkorb at a restaurant away from the Capitol and told him he was fired. It was not until this week that anyone confirmed the affair.

Brodkorb had long been seen as a powerful and brash Senate GOP communications chief, unafraid to confront colleagues and even senators.

Ludeman accused Brodkorb of trying to "blackmail" and "extort" the Senate. The Senate's private attorney dismissed the former staffer's claims as a fishing expedition. But the allegations got the Capitol rumor mill buzzing over whom, precisely, Brodkorb could identify.

Neither Villaume nor a legal document from Brodkorb's side provided any hint of which lawmakers might face deposition, which would be done privately.

"Not me," said Steve Sviggum, who replaced Brodkorb. Sviggum served as the House Republican leader and then speaker for more than a decade, until 2006. Asked whether he knew of a single lawmaker other than Koch who had an affair with a staffer, he said: "We are going to let the attorneys handle this. You are pushing me in a way I don't want to go."

Roger Moe, a DFLer who served as the Senate majority leader for two decades, also demurred about whether he knew of lawmakers who had sexual relations with staffers during his time.

"If I did, I wouldn't tell you," said Moe, now a lobbyist.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, referred all questions to the attorney the Senate hired to deal with the Brodkorb matter.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he doesn't know of any current lawmakers who have had affairs with staffers. Bakk is married to a current Senate staffer but noted that she worked in the Senate at that time and he was a House member.

Legal questions, too

Brodkorb's claims raise legal questions as well.

Villaume said that his case is a "very, very, very" rare one with a "relatively new and creative" legal theory.

At its heart, Brodkorb's legal case is that he was fired even though female staffers who had affairs with lawmakers were kept on or transferred to other state jobs. Brodkorb said he was treated differently, a case of gender discrimination.

"Similarly situated female legislative employees, from both political parties, were not terminated from their employment positions despite intimate relationships with male legislators," his attorneys said.

Senate officials said Brodkorb has no evidence to back up his claim and was an "at- will" employee who could be fired at any time.

Ludeman said Brodkorb was dismissed because Koch was no longer in leadership and he worked for her. His dismissal, Ludeman said, had nothing to do with the affair he had with Koch.

"There was no conversation or no word uttered by me about that at that event" regarding the affair, Ludeman said.

Documents by Brodkorb's attorneys contradicted Ludeman, saying he specifically noted the affair when he fired Brodkorb on Dec. 16.

Brodkorb's legal team said they believe Koch will "testify that Mr. Brodkorb's employment was terminated by the Republican leadership because of the intimate relationship." Villaume said that testimony would be public. Koch, who is married, said Thursday that she had no comment.

On Thursday, Dayle Nolan, the private attorney the Senate hired to handle the Brodkorb matter, said: "I have found no basis so far either in law or in fact to support a claim against the Senate, senators or Senate staff."

Brodkorb is holding out the possibility that he could separately sue Republican Sens. Geoff Michel, David Hann and Chris Gerlach, as well as former Senate chief of staff Cullen Sheehan and Senate committee administrator Aaron Cocking. All were said to have knowledge of Brodkorb's relationship with Koch or were involved in the events surrounding his dismissal.

Senjem, who was also involved in those events and first hired Brodkorb years ago when the party was in the minority, was not included in that list of possible legal targets.

Michel, who lost his post as deputy Senate majority leader in the aftermath of the Koch scandal, refused to comment. He and Gerlach announced recently that they are not seeking re-election.

Hann said that it was "probably not good for me to make any other comments because I don't have any firsthand knowledge of it."

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb

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