The Legislature is being billed $399,000 for its legal bills in a lawsuit against Gov. Mark Dayton, said Douglas Kelley, the lawyer whose firm handled the case.
The Republican-controlled Legislature last year sued Dayton after he vetoed funding for pay and expenses of lawmakers and staff in a dispute over taxes, education and criminal justice issues. The Legislature retained the Minneapolis firm of Kelley, Wolter & Scott.
Kelley said the actual bill was $433,000 — already reduced from normal rates — but lowered to $399,000. Legislative leadership, he said, “asked for a discount on behalf of the taxpayers of Minnesota and we honored that request.”
The legal bill was first reported by Minnesota Public Radio.
Dayton’s legal defense was provided by Briggs and Morgan law firm for $368,000.
Because Minnesotans paid for both sides of the legal battle, the total cost to taxpayers will be $767,000.
The legal battle took up the weighty matter of separation of powers. The Legislature accused Dayton of trying to crush another branch of government with his veto of their funding.
A lower court ruled in their favor, but the Minnesota Supreme Court said Dayton’s move was lawful.
Despite his apparent legal victory, Dayton dropped his demands, relented and signed a bill early this legislative session that funds House and Senate staff, salaries and other expenses.
“Taxpayers picked up the cost of expensive lawyers for a battle that never should have happened,” said Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, the GOP majority leader.
Dayton spokesman Sam Fettig suggested that legislative leaders were disingenuous.
“It is absurd to say that they had to fight for their funding,” Fettig said. “The Supreme Court said that they had enough money to operate until the legislative session. They either did not know it, or would not admit it.”