ST. PAUL, Minn. - State lawmakers Thursday agreed to pay the most recent batch of legal bills stemming from the wrongful termination lawsuit filed by a former Republican staffer in the aftermath of a Capitol sex scandal.
The Senate Rules Committee voted to pay an invoice of $90,226 from law firm handling the Senate's defense of an employment discrimination case brought by former Republican Senate communications director Michael Brodkorb.
Senate Majority Leader David Senjem of Rochester, who chairs the committee, said that settling the case out of court is not a valid option. He said he expected his replacement, Democrat Tom Bakk, to continue the legal battle.
"It would be precedent-setting for the Senate but also can be perceived as some sort of a cover-up," Senjem explained.
"This case needs to go forward in the openness of a court session, and be decided. I don't think we ought to simply settle because it's convenient, or that it's less costly."
Senjem was one of several Republican senators who confronted then-Majority Leader Amy Koch one year ago about an extramarital affair with Brodkorb, who was also serving as her chief of staff.
They urged Koch, a Republican from Buffalo, to step down from her leadership post. She relinquished that position but remaining in the Senate her final year.
At the time Koch didn't publicly identify which staff member was involved. But on the following day Senate Secretary Cal Ludeman told Brodkorb he no longer had his job at the State Capitol.
"I never said he was terminated," Ludeman told KARE on Thursday.
"I said he was separated. Everything that you've learned about this case comes from the plaintiff, not from me."
The thrust of Brodkorb's lawsuit is that he was treated differently from female staff at the State Capitol who've been romantically involved with married legislators or other supervisors there.
His legal team has assembled a list of other people involved in such interludes, and will seek depositions from them to support his case that he was discriminated against because of his gender.
The Senate Majority Caucus, in its response to Brodkorb's lawsuit, contends that he could be fired without any reason or justification because he was an "at-will" employee. In other words, he was a political appointee rather than someone hired through the civil service system, which features a set of due process system for those who are terminated.
The running tab on the case has now exceeded $200,000, more than twice what it would've cost to keep Brodkorb on staff for the past year. The most expensive portion of the case, depositions and pre-trial motions, haven't started yet.
"The Legislature's not insured for this, so it's coming right out of the hide of the taxpayers at this point," David Schultz, a political analyst who teaches at the Hamline University Graduate School of Management, told KARE.
"In the private sector, the private business world, a case like this would've been settled out of court a long time ago."
One incentive for lawmakers to settle, according to Schultz, is to avoid further distracting scandals if Brodkorb's legal team goes through with depositions of people involved in past affairs.
He said another strong motivation for Republicans in particular is that Democrats, when they assume control of the Senate in January, will become the "clients" for the private law firm defending the state.
"The Democrats will suddenly have access to a lot of information that was privileged up to this point, that only the Republicans knew. If they choose to waive privilege, they can reveal a lot of details that won't be good politically for Republicans."
Setting a precedent
Ludeman said the Senate would have a hard time functioning if leaders couldn't hire people as "at-will" employees and fire them when desired.
Senjem echoed that sentiment.
"If you settle now for whatever amount of money it is, you're going to have many claims going down the road -- based on this settlement -- that you're not going to be able to defend," he said.
"And it will cost in the long-run much, much more."
Ludeman said the money has been well spent in his opinion because the private law firm -- Larkin, Hoffman Daly & Lindgren -- has done well for the Senate. He said that five of Brodkorb's original ten claims have been dropped.
Both sides are awaiting a ruling from US District Judge Susan Richards Nelson on the Senate's motion to dismiss three of the five remaining claims. Nelson issued a gag order on all parties when it comes to discussing the terms that were offered during closed-door settlement negotiations supervised by the court.
Ludeman is also a defendant in a separate cause of action in Brodkorb's lawsuit, because of a letter Ludeman released to the press last spring accusing Brodkorb of trying to extort a settlement.
Brodkorb and his lawyers did not comment about the Senate's action Thursday.
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