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Dayton taps ex-Supreme Court justice as ‘special counsel’

Gov. Mark Dayton has tapped former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Sam Hanson to defend his administration against a lawsuit filed by the GOP-led Legislature, the governor’s office said Wednesday.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, challenges Dayton’s line-item veto of the Legislature’s $129 million 2018-19 biennial budget.

“The governor line-item vetoed the funding for the Minnesota House and Minnesota Senate to bring Republican leaders back to the negotiating table and correct their tax giveaways to big tobacco, the estates of multimillionaires and big businesses,” according to a press release issued by Dayton’s office Wednesday.

In his May 30 veto letter to GOP leaders, Dayton said he also wanted them to dump already-approved measures that ban undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses and that reform teacher licensure requirements before he calls another special session to reinstate their budget.

He lamented the court filing in Wednesday’s press release.

“It’s regrettable that Republican legislative leaders have chosen a legal battle to protect their excessive tax giveaways, which will cost the state of Minnesota over $5 billion during the next decade,” Dayton is quoted as saying in the press release.

Dayton said that he decided to hire outside counsel after reviewing the GOP’s lawsuit and after consulting with Attorney General Lori Swanson.

Hanson practiced with the Briggs and Morgan law firm for 34 years, serving as the firm’s president. In 2000, he was appointed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Gov. Jesse Ventura tapped him for the Supreme Court two years later.

In 2008, he returned to Briggs and Morgan, serving another term as its president. He has been inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers, the American Board of Trial Advocates and the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers.

Mary Jane Morrison, a retired Mitchell Hamline School of Law professor and state Constitution expert, said that Dayton is “lucky to be able to pull in such heavy hitter.” Hanson has “an excellent reputation,” she said.

“And, of course, he knows how the Supreme Court works,” Morrison said. “So it looks like a smart move.”

Morrison said that Doug Kelley, the lawyer tapped by House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, is also “an excellent attorney.” But he does not know the inside workings of the high court the same way that Hanson does, she said.

“Supreme Courts everywhere—in every state and at the United States Supreme Court—have traditions that people who are on the inside know, and that people who regularly practice before those courts  know,” she said.

“Otherwise,” she added, “even the good lawyers don’t know some of the inside way that courts and justices have.”

David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor, said that recruiting Hanson signals that Dayton sees a bitter court battle coming.

“It suggests that he is looking for the fight,” Schultz said. “Or that he thinks the Republicans aren’t going to back down and they think they can win this battle and really destroy the governor. So he has really got to have a good legal team to defend himself.”

The GOP suit challenges the constitutionality of Dayton’s May 30 line-item veto and seeks an injunction declaring it null and void while reinstating the Legislature’s funding.

Daudt and Gazelka have said their chambers have about two months of cash reserves and carryover funds with which to both operate the Legislature and pay their legal fees.

However, during a press conference last week, Dayton—while admitting he does not know how much money the chambers are sitting on—said he suspects the chambers have cash enough to operate into the next biennium.

During that same June 9 press briefing, Dayton was asked whether he hopes the courts will step in and help resolve the Legislature’s habit of ignoring the Constitution’s single-subject rule, which some observers see lying at the heart of the current political crisis.

“As a matter of policy and public integrity, I think the Legislature ought to look at it,” Dayton said. “But the Legislature is not good at self-policing. So it may require somebody else to take a look at it.”

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