An attorney for GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer asked a judge on Monday to throw out a legal malpractice lawsuit filed by a former client shortly before the election.
Steven Hackbarth alleges that Emmer failed to properly represent him in a lawsuit the contractor lost to a supplier of roofing materials last year. He sued Emmer in September, just over six weeks before the election, prompting charges from the Emmer camp that the lawsuit was a political extortion attempt.
Emmer attorney Michael Schwartz told Wright County District Judge Stephen Halsey that Emmer wasn't Hackbarth's lawyer in the billing dispute, and that Hackbarth had "no viable defense" for failing to pay his supplier.
Hackbarth attorney Robert Hart said "there are few undisputed facts in this matter," and he asked Halsey to allow the lawsuit to move forward.
The judge took Emmer's motion under advisement. He has up to 90 days to rule.
A.H. Bennett Co. won a summary judgment against Hackbarth and his company last year over $30,000 worth of roofing materials for which Hackbarth did not pay, and the state later revoked his contractor's license for nonpayment.
While Hackbarth represented himself in the summary judgment hearing in that case, Hart told the judge Emmer provided Hackbarth with legal advice and failed to help him mount an adequate defense.
Emmer had represented Hackbarth in other matters and they were once friends. Hackbarth had even used his tractor to pull Emmer in parades back when Emmer was running for the state House. Hackbarth has denied any political motivations and said he filed the lawsuit only after his efforts to settle were rebuffed.
In a letter to Schwartz in August that is part of the defense filings in the case, Hart wrote that they were willing to settle for $200,000.
Emmer trails Democrat Mark Dayton by about 8,750 votes after Tuesday's election, a margin small enough to trigger an automatic recount due to start later this month. Emmer did not attend the hearing because he had a meeting with Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Schwartz said afterward.
"If Emmer hadn't been running for governor, I don't believe this case would ever have been brought," Schwartz said.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)