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State auditor, treasurer reject payments in Branstad case

by Ace Damon
State auditor, treasurer reject payments in Branstad case

A group of senior state officials on Monday approved payments of nearly $ 400,000 to a Des Moines law firm to continue a lawsuit in which a jury found that former governor Terry Branstad discriminated against a former state official because employee is gay.

Two Democratic members of the Iowa Executive Council, the five-member panel responsible for authorizing state litigation, declined to approve bills introduced on Monday.

Iowa Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and Auditor Rob Sand voted no. But the three Republicans, Governor Kim Reynolds, Secretary of State Paul Pate and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, voted in favor, allowing the bills to be paid.

Four bills introduced by Nyemaster Goode law firm totaled $ 388,594, bringing the total cost of the case to over $ 8 million.

A jury awarded former Iowa workers compensation commissioner Chris Godfrey $ 1.5 million in July, finding that he was the victim of discrimination and retaliation when Branstad tried to force him out in 2011 and then cut his salary. .

Jurors found against Branstad, one of his staff and the state. Branstad resigned as governor in 2017 to become the US ambassador to China.

Reynolds decided last month to appeal the case to the Iowa Supreme Court. If Godfrey prevails in appeals, taxpayers must pay the full court costs.

The governor said the projects approved on Monday are still part of the main case, including trial costs and appeal costs that have not yet begun to be charged.

She reiterated her reason for continuing to pay taxpayers for the case and for appealing.

"As I said before, I think it would be irresponsible for me not to be a relatively small cost in the future and we believe we have a good point," said Reynolds.

Sand, a former state prosecutor who became auditor in January, said the projects presented on Monday include some of the key process and appeals costs. Since September, he said he would not force taxpayers to pay resource costs.

Sand said the courts are unlikely, on appeal, to dismiss the case.

"The chances of this happening versus the chances of getting a new trial and having to pay those expenses again are very bad," he said.

Reynolds said he believed the Iowa Supreme Court could reverse the verdict and close the case, eliminating the verdict and costs of Godfrey's lawyer.

Sand called this a bad bet.

Branstad and state lawyers argued that the verdicts were not backed by substantial evidence and conflicted with the law. Branstad testified that at the time he asked Godfrey to resign, he did not know that Godfrey was gay. His lawyers claim that there was insufficient evidence to show that Branstad knew.

These appeals and others were rejected on November 13 by Judge Brad McCall, who also presided over the trial. He wrote that the jury clearly rejected Branstad's claim that he did not know Godfrey was gay.

McCall said the jury received substantial evidence to conclude that Branstad's action against Godfrey is due to Godfrey's sexual orientation.

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Follow David Pitt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/davepitt

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