Minn. Senate Revisits Ex-Aide's Case as Costs Rise

Updated: 12/13/2012 6:26 PM KSTP.com By: Scott Theisen

Amid mounting public legal costs, Minnesota senators vowed Thursday to keep fighting a lawsuit filed by a veteran aide that was fired for an affair with the Republican majority leader.
    
Senior senators approved payment of the latest $90,000 invoice from a private firm defending the chamber against claims by Michael Brodkorb. One Democrat on the Rules and Adminstration Committee voiced concern over $200,000 of legal bills in all, but Republicans said it would be a mistake to give in to what they consider meritless claims just to make the case go away.
    
"A decision like this is precedent-setting and if we don't stand on our heels and put despite some cement around them on this, we're going to set a precedent that is going to be with the Senate for decades to come," said Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, who took over after his predecessor gave up his post in the scandal. "I think we believe we are right. We ought to stand on what we believe is right. In my view, that's why we have courts."
    
Senjem said settling would be perceived "as a cover-up, which we don't want."
    
Brodkorb was a $90,000-a-year communications aide to Senate Republicans. He was fired last year when his affair with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch became public. He is suing on grounds he was improperly terminated, discriminated because of his gender, defamed by the Senate's secretary and had his personal privacy violated.
    
Senate lawyers contend Brodkorb was an at-will employee who could be let go at any time.
    
Five of Brodkorb's initial 10 claims were thrown out. A federal judge is currently weighing whether to let others move forward.
    
The sides held court-ordered settlement talks this fall, but those went nowhere. There has been no public activity in the case since mid-October. A gag order prohibiting the sides from disclosing settlement efforts remains in force.
    
Democratic Sen. Jim Metzen has predicted legal costs alone could hit $500,000 or more because there no signs of an imminent resolution.
    
"As far as I know there has been no depositions or no trial," Metzen said. "The meter really runs when you get into that area."
    
But Republican Sen. Geoff Michel said the earlier dismissals are signs that the Senate is winning its argument and could actually stand to recover legal costs from Brodkorb if the remaining case crumbles.
    
That assessment drew a sharp rebuke from Brodkorb attorney Phil Villaume.
    
"We're a long ways away of being done with this case. We're just in the initial stages," Villaume said in a telephone interview. "For these political leaders to say they've got the case won is premature and baseless."
    
Villaume said he expects a court decision this month on the pending motions. After that, the sides could head into a phase of depositions and document searches. That might involve deposing other Capitol employees and lawmakers whom Brodkorb has said engaged in similar relationships without facing the consequence he did.
    
Koch, once seen as a rising GOP star, didn't run again in November and quietly served out the final year of her term.
    
Republicans lost control of the Senate and will formally hand over power to Democrats in January.

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