Minnesota Senate leaders today approved a nearly $85,000 payment in outside legal fees to prepare for a threatened wrongful termination lawsuit from former GOP staffer Michael Brodkorb.
The legal bills are expected to mount if and when Brodkorb follows through on his threat. That's why Democrats on the Senate Rules committee are recommending that the GOP caucus create a defense fund to raise private money.
The Senate hired an outside attorney for $330 an hour to deal with legal threats from Brodkorb. The secretary of the senate, Cal Ludeman, fired Brodkorb in December following the resignation of Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch from her leadership post.
Brodkorb's attorney, Phil Villaume, has said Ludeman told Brodkorb he lost his job because of his affair with Koch, his boss.
But Bordkorb has not yet filed a lawsuit. That had state Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, wondering how high the legal bill might yet climb.
"Is there light at the end of the tunnel?" Metzen asked. "Does anybody know kind of where we're at? I could see where the taxpayers — this could eventually get up to $250,000 - $300,000 that the hard working taxpayers would have to pay."
The Senate has already received two invoices from the Larkin Hoffman Daly & Lindgren firm. The first, for $46,150, covered legal work from January through March. The second bill, for $38,533, itemizes work done in April and May.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, told Metzen that he could not discuss the matter in detail. But Senjem didn't deny that more legal bills are coming.
"This being a personnel matter, I don't feel I'm in a position to be able to comment, on the advice of counsel," Senjem said. "I think the fair answer to your question is we don't know at this point. That's probably as far as I'm able to go."
No committee members challenged the rate the firm is charging, but other Democrats on the committee raised concerns about taxpayers having to pay the growing legal bill. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he views the threatened lawsuit as an internal Republican caucus matter.
Bakk suggested that Senjem and other GOP leaders think about raising money privately.
"This could be a lot of money and a long time," Bakk said. "I don't have an interest in settling this out of court. I don't think the Senate did anything wrong. But ... who knows where this is going?"
Senjem did not immediately respond to Bakk's suggestion. He later explained that Senate GOP leaders have not discussed a legal defense fund and probably won't. Senjem said the Senate must defend itself, and should use public money.
"The previous history of the Senate has been one that covered these legal costs out of the Senate budget, and that's probably where we'll be," Senjem said.
The panel approved the payment on a divided voice vote. Republicans appeared to be the only members voting in favor of the action.