This week’s approval of the final installment of legal defense fees for the lawsuit filed by former staffer Michael Brodkorb brings the Minnesota Senate’s total tab north of $400,000. The Senate Rules and Administration Committee met Monday to sign off on another $77,000 worth of payments to the Larkin Hoffman law firm, which received $396,000 for preparing the upper chamber’s defense since the suit was filed in July 2012. The committee had previously voted to approve a $30,000 severance package for Brodkorb, whose claim initially sought $500,000 in damages.
The latest round of legal expenses covers Larkin Hoffman’s work negotiating a settlement with Brodkorb. That agreement stipulates that neither side can file to win back attorneys fees relating to the case and includes an admission from Brodkorb that the facts of the case do not support any of his claims.
Brodkorb was fired in late 2011 after news broke that he had been having an affair with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch. The Republican operative sued his former employer on the grounds that, as a man, he had been treated differently from female employees who had relationships with male legislators. The Senate argued that Brodkorb was an at-will employee, and could be terminated at any time.
Monday’s committee vote occurred with little debate or fanfare. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, asked if the Senate had done everything necessary to ensure that it was protected from any future claim Brodkorb might bring. Newman dropped his line of questioning after he was informed by Senate counsel Tom Bottern that the settlement agreement was essentially already in effect, and that a payment to Brodkorb was in process. The defense fees were approved without dissent.
Later in the same hearing, the committee voted to increase the monthly housing allowance for outstate members from $1,200 to $1,500. In explaining the move, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said he became convinced that the current level is inadequate following anecdotal input from other senators and a subsequent survey conducted by Senate fiscal analysts.
“It turns out over half of the members are actually taking money out of their pocket to cover costs of their lease agreement, utilities and parking,” Bakk said.
Before the vote, Bakk made clear that the reimbursement is not automatic, and that senators would need to produce documentation to prove they had incurred the related expenses. The housing allowance hike is the first since 2007. The committee also voted to increase the amount outstate members could claim for telecommunications expenses from $125 a month to $200 a month, the first increase in that category since 1999.