Roofer Steve Hackbarth supported Tom Emmer when Emmer ran for the Minnesota House, even driving a campaign float for him in a parade.

But now Hackbarth is accusing Emmer, the Republican candidate for governor and a trial lawyer, of professional malpractice for his handling of a lawsuit.

Hackbarth hired Emmer to defend his roofing firm against a suit by a building supplier, but claims Emmer neglected the case, resulting in a $30,072 judgment against his firm and loss of his contractor license.

Emmer denies the allegation, and in turn accuses Hackbarth of using the upcoming election as leverage to negotiate a settlement.

"This is nothing more than a drive-by shooting against a guy who is running for governor," Emmer said.

Hackbarth and his attorney, Robert Hart, say that is not the case.

"I don't see how it's my client's fault that Mr. Emmer is running for governor after he committed malpractice," Hart said.

The lawsuit was filed Sept. 21 and is set for a hearing Nov. 8 -- six days after the election.

It accuses Emmer of "professional negligence below the acceptable standard for a lawyer in this situation" stemming from the 2009 business dispute.

The supplier of roofing materials sued Hackbarth's company for nonpayment of bills. In an interview, Hackbarth said he had been mistakenly billed for some of the expenses. He said he hired Emmer, whom he described as a friend, to represent him against the supplier. A hearing was scheduled for June 5, 2009, but Emmer obtained a continuance to July 1 of that year.

Emmer "failed to submit any evidence to contradict" the supplier's allegations, the malpractice suit said.

Ruling in favor of the supplier's motion for summary judgment in August 2009, District Judge Thomas McCarthy noted that Emmer asked for the continuance to "get up to speed" and that the one-month delay was reasonable. The judge said he could have simply found Hackbarth's company in default "for its failure to have a licensed legal representative file a proper response."

Hart said Hackbarth tried unsuccessfully after the ruling to negotiate payments with the supplier. The Department of Labor and Industry revoked Hackbarth's contractor license this past May, and he drew up the suit against Emmer in July, claiming loss of livelihood.

In one document, Emmer's lawyer, Michael Schwartz, questions whether the allegations are "a frivolous and baseless shakedown in light of the upcoming election."

Hart and Schwartz have hired legal experts who have provided conflicting opinions on whether Emmer was negligent. Emmer argues that Hackbarth's company owes the supplier the money.

"Is there something I did or should have done that would have changed the outcome?" he asked. "There's absolutely nothing."

Emmer said he didn't file paperwork for the hearing in part because Hackbarth said his business records were in his Wright County home when a fire destroyed it.

Schwartz hired a private investigator who reviewed records of the fire and opined that officials had left open the possibility of it being arson.

"Other circumstances regarding the fire at Hackbarth's home will be further divulged if this litigation survives," Schwartz wrote in one document.

In its report, the state fire marshal's office said the cause of the fire was "undetermined" and closed the investigation, saying it couldn't rule out that the fire started accidentally during kitchen remodeling. Hackbarth's insurer paid damage claims on it, Hart said.

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210