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Senate panel will review legal cost of Brodkorb case

As legal fees mount, the committee meeting offers a forum to discuss alternatives to going to court.

Attorney Greg Walsh and Michael Brodkorb

The public may soon get a closer look at the legal bill they’re footing to defend the state Senate in Michael Brodkorb’s wrongful termination case.

The DFL minority leader has demanded that the Senate Rules Committee review the case, and the Republican majority leader is inclined to agree.  

DFL Sen. Tom Bakk said he’s reluctant to co-sign a check with Majority Leader Dave Senjem for $46,000 in legal fees unless the Rules Committee reviews the bill and considers the cost of further legal action.

Senjem indicated he will call a meeting of the committee soon because the committee appropriated only $50,000 for legal expenses. “Certainly the Rules Committee can meet and talk about that,” Senjem said in an interview late Thursday.

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The Senate received a bill from attorney Dayle Nolan for $46,000 for work her work on the case through March 1. Nolan bills the Senate at a rate of $330 an hour.   

She was retained after the Senate dismissed Brodkorb, communications director for the Senate Republican caucus, last December for having an inappropriate personal relationship with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch. Brodkorb is waiting for approval from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to bring a legal claim against the Senate for gender discrimination. To prove that claim, he said he’s prepared to identify legislative colleagues who had their own personal relationships with staff members and were treated differently.

A five-figure legal bill and no end in sight for billable hours compound the bad publicity – especially for Senate Republicans – surrounding the case. Bakk and other senators are starting to chafe at the public perception of the case. “All along I have said there needs to be a transparent process, that this going to take a couple years to resolve, and the public needs to know all that is transpiring,” he said.

 The 11-member Rules Committee, chaired by Senjem, offers the Senate a larger forum to discuss alternatives to going to court.

“There may be a point, in an awful case like this, the parties being sued may decide they want to settle,” Bakk said.  “If the Rules Committee takes a look, we have more options going forward, if more people are being engaged in the process.”

Senjem sees the benefit of a meeting of the Rules Committee not only to discuss future legal expenses but also to allay the public relations concerns.

“The institutional value of going through the bill and noting that the lawyer may have talked to Senate counsel or Senator Bakk or myself, that value is in the eye of the beholder,” he said.  “But I do think the public is certainly interested in the amount and the general purpose of the payment.”