As part of the last official action for the Republican-controlled state Senate, lawmakers on Thursday approved payment of 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 filed by former Senate employee Michael Brodkorb, who was fired a year ago in the wake of his affair with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.
Outgoing Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said the issue is "not fun."
"It has 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 dismissal because past female legislative employees had affairs and were allowed to keep their jobs. To prove that claim, he would have to interview others he believes had affairs while working for the Legislature. His legal team may soon start seeking information from people Brodkorb 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 and therefore it is in the best interest of Senate history to fight.
"We ought to stand on what we believe is right, and in my view that's why we have courts," Senjem said.
A Senate panel, made up of six Republicans and two DFLers, quickly approved paying the legal bill.
The most recent bill includes thousands of dollars of charges for court-ordered settlement talks that went nowhere. It also includes hundreds of dollars in fees to prepare a press release that was never issued. 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 said. Michel, R-Edina, was the deputy Senate majority leader when Brodkorb was fired. He did not run for re-election this year.
Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman endorsed Michel's claim of victory so far, noting that several of Brodkorb's initial claims have been dropped and a judge is deciding whether three more should be set aside.
Brodkrob, however, called the claims of victory "completely uninformed." Michel, he said, is attempting "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 called a "holding pattern" as both sides wait for a federal judge's decision on whether to set aside the three claims. In one of those claims, Brodkorb accused the Senate secretary of defamation.
Villaume said he expects the ruling in a few weeks.
"Once that's completed, we proceed with discovery on the gender-discrimination claim," he said.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb