Minn. senators troubled over costs in sex scandal

Published 9:30 am Thursday, June 21, 2012

ST. PAUL  — With taxpayers already out nearly $85,000, Minnesota senators voiced concern Wednesday about fast-growing legal bills connected to a sex scandal that toppled the GOP’s majority leader and a powerful aide.

By a divided voice vote with Democrats in opposition, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee approved payment of the first bills from a private firm hired to defend it against threatened lawsuits. The Senate could face multiple lawsuits from fired Republican communications adviser Michael Brodkorb, who was let go amid allegations of an extramarital affair with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.

Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, said a six-figure liability is creeping in sight without a clear indication an end is near.

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“It scares the dickens out of me,” he said.

No lawsuits have been filed, but Brodkorb has notified the state of his intent to sue on grounds he was discriminated against and publicly defamed. The affair came to light after Koch, under internal pressure, abruptly gave up her leadership post last December and announced she wouldn’t seek a new Senate term this November.

Brodkorb attorney Phil Villaume said his client has been rebuffed in his attempts to mediate his case rather than go to court.

“He has every intention of filing a lawsuit within the coming weeks if they do not come to the mediation table,” Villaume said. The attorney added later in a phone interview, “We feel he was wronged, and we intend to prove that in open court unless we get a decent settlement.”

Democrats argued taxpayer money shouldn’t necessarily go for the legal defense and they urged Republicans to arrange a private defense fund.

Some of the costs from Minneapolis-based Larkin Hoffman Daly and Lindgren involve legal research, telephone discussions with key Senate employees and time that the main lawyer spent at a related ethics hearing. Dayle Nolan, the primary attorney, charges $330 an hour. The invoice approved by the committee covers work done through mid-May.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he’s not interested in settling the case to hold down costs because he doesn’t think Brodkorb’s claims have merit. But he said Republicans shoulder a burden here because the scandal brewed on their side.

Current Senate Majority Leader David Senjem quickly shut down the discussion, suggesting the Democrats were going too far in revealing legal strategy. He said after the hearing that a private defense fund hasn’t been discussed by fellow GOP leaders nor does he anticipate one will be formed.

“It has not been in the tradition of the Senate as I am aware of,” Senjem said. “At this moment, the answer would be no. We’ll move forward in the general tradition of the Senate.”