Senate committee agrees to pay $84K legal bill
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- June 20, 2012 - 6:18 PM
The Senate rules committee has agreed to pay more than $84,000 in legal bills it has racked up, defending against a lawsuit that hasn’t even been filed yet.
The committee signed off Wednesday on the bill for legal fees over the objections of Democrats, who questioned why Minnesota taxpayers should foot the bill to defend the Senate Republican caucus against a lawsuit filed by a disgruntled former GOP staffer.
“I don’t have an interest in settling this out of court. I don’t think the Senate did anything wrong,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. But “the majority should have a conversation about setting up a legal defense fund and trying to raise some money for this so the taxpayer is not on the hook for who knows, who knows how much the number is going to be.”
Michael Brodkorb, the former communications director for the Senate's Republican caucus, who was fired soon after his affair with former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch came to light. Koch resigned her leadership post last December and Brodkorb was fired the next day.
Senate officials said Brodkorb’s services were no longer needed, Brodkorb alleges he was treated differently than female staffers who conducted affairs with male lawmakers and were allowed to keep their jobs. He is threatening to sue over his firing, claiming sexual discrimination and defamation. He says he will seek half a million dollars in damages.
The suit has not yet been filed, but the Senate is paying the law firm of Larkin Hoffman Daly & Lindgren $330 an hour to prepare for it, Bakk said. After a few minutes of debate, the committee agreed to pay the $84,683.50 legal bill, with Democrats voting against the idea.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said Senate tradition has always been to shoulder the legal costs of defending members and staff against civil suits – although private legal funds have been set up in the past for criminal defense cases.
“We always have concerns” about how much the legal defense could cost taxpayers, Senjem said. “But we have to defend the institution and that’s what we’re attempting to do.”
A private defense fund “has never been considered,” Senjem said.
Brodkorb's attorney, Phil Villaume, took umbrage at Bakk's remarks, and said his client's lawsuit will likely be filed within the next two or three weeks. Senators have rejected his efforts to settle the complaint through mediation, he said.
"We've been dealing in good faith with these people," he said. "We have been attempting to get the Minnesota Senate to the mediation table for the last three months and they have refused."
As for Bakk's statement that the Senate has done nothing wrong, Villaume said, "If the Senate is taking the position that this case is without merit, number one, they are ill informed."
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