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A federal judge has dismissed claims that former Senate staffer Michael Brodkorb was defamed by comments made about his lawsuit by the former Secretary of the Senate. The ruling narrows Brodkorb's case against the Senate to federal and state allegations of gender discrimination.

Federal judge tosses some Brodkorb claims

Michael Brodkorb (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

A federal judge has dismissed three claims brought by former state Senate Communications Director Michael Brodkorb related to his 2011 dismissal. Brodkorb was fired after high-level Republican senators confronted then-Majority Leader Amy Koch over her extramarital affair with Brodkorb. Koch resigned as majority leader on Dec. 15, 2011, and Brodkorb was dismissed the following day.

Brodkorb is alleging gender discrimination on the basis that female staffers who had affairs with legislators have been treated differently. That claim remains alive in court, but his defamation claims were thrown out by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson. (Her order is here.)

Brodkorb was dismissed by Cal Ludeman, who was Secretary of the Senate at the time. When Brodkorb announced his legal action in March 2012, Ludeman responded in a news release that the former staffer’s action was an attempt to “extort” a financial payout from the Senate. Ludeman was also quoted in the Star Tribune as saying the Senate wouldn’t engage in “blackmail negotiations” with Brodkorb. Nelson, whose order removed Ludeman as a defendant in the case, ruled that the nature of Ludeman’s comments are construed as protected speech under the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“While the press release,” Nelson wrote, “does acknowledge the Senate’s refusal of Plaintiff’s settlement demand and refers to Brodkorb’s efforts to ‘extort’ payment, it also refers broadly and dismissively to attempts to ‘disrupt’ the Senate with his ‘so-called claims.’ These statements, along with the comments made the following day repeating the word ‘extort’ and adding the phrase ‘blackmail negotiations.’ are simply subjective statements of rhetoric and hyperbole.’”

Senate Republicans are now the minority caucus. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he was pleased with the dismissal of the three counts.

“We’ve said all along these claims are without merit and the Senate has acted lawfully. We believe the courts will find the remaining claims to also be without merit,” Hann said.

The two remaining counts in the case, one federal and one state, relate to Brodkorb’s discrimination claims. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the Senate will now consider how to conclude the lawsuit.

“We will now take time to review the implications of this decision as we determine how the Senate will proceed and ultimately resolve this litigation. Our hope is to bring the remainder of the law suit to a prompt and satisfactory conclusion,” Bakk said.

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