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Five More Questions: Attorney Gilmore chides media for not contesting closed Brodkorb files

The friend of Brodkorb argues that the media have a journalistic obligation to fight the judge’s protective order, which shields the controversial termination case from the public.

John Gilmore: "Everywhere you look you see personal animosity toward Michael Brodkorb getting in the way of doing what's right for the people of Minnesota."
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley

Editor’s note: Five More Questions is an occasional series by Brian Lambert that follows up on people who recently made news.

St. Paul attorney John Gilmore is a familiar presence among Twin Cities’ conservative activists. His well-written, frequently amusing blog, “Minnesota Conservatives,” is a must-read among the political chattering class — and among his current clients he counts resigned/deposed Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and Michele Bachmann’s former chief of staff, Andy Parrish.

In a recent blog post supporting his close friend, Michael Brodkorb, Gilmore argued that the local political media had a journalistic obligation to raise objections to Judge Arthur Boylan’s June 6 protective order that essentially sealed from taxpaying eyes what Republican leaders (primarily) said and did as Koch was, shall we say, “encouraged” to resign and Brodkorb was fired. (The contents of one of the audiotapes did become public over the weekend as the result of a leak.)

The public tab for Brodkorb’s lawsuit already has reached $226,000 … before entering discovery and trial phases.

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Said Gilmore: “[T]he protective order effectively renders [Brodkorb’s] federal lawsuit invisible to the public. Worse, though, than one private litigant’s discomfort, the protective order keeps the people of Minnesota from knowing how their elected officials handled this by now very public matter.”

Adding: “Minnesota media should intervene in this lawsuit for the sole purpose of challenging a shockingly over broad protective order. I’d feel the same way if the litigant was a democrat suing what was then a DFL controlled senate.”

So, we had five questions for Mr. Gilmore:

1. As we speak, I detect no movement among anyone in the media — anywhere — to join an opposition to Judge Boylan’s order. How do you explain the indifference of the local political press to this? I presume they’d all be eager to publish whatever was said by people like Sens. Dave Senjem, Geoff Michel and David Hann.

John Gilmore: I don’t know why, and it is curious. The press still likes to think of itself as the defender of the public’s right to know. But apparently not in this case. I don’t know why they decided to abdicate what they think of as one of their primary missions.

After all, this is an example of what I think of as a troubling precedent. And look, I don’t want to be the guy who is always whining about the press. But this seems so egregiously broad — everything the Senate wants restricted is deemed “confidential” — that I think the media should get involved, for the public’s sake, not Michael’s.

And yes, I’ve had a couple conversations with individual political reporters who have told me they’ve brought it up with their bosses and that it’s being “looked at.”

2. Beyond the professional media, how do you explain the tepid to non-existent support Brodkorb has received from other conservative activists and bloggers? The irony that these are people who share his ideology and aggressive style of partisan politics and now have all but completely abandoned him is kind of striking. Some of them are pretty flaky, but others, like at Power Line, have law degrees and you’d think would be able to argue some merit for someone in his predicament?

5 More QuestionsJG: Well, I think I see things a bit differently than others. As I say, I’m a friend of Michael’s. Others really don’t like him. It may be that simple. They can’t see past their animosities. Maybe that’s why I’m the only one arguing in his defense.

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But again, the issue of this overly broad protective order has much more significance to the public — who has a right to know what its elected officials did and are doing with taxpayer money — than it does with one man.

This’ll sound like hubris, but the fact I think this way explains a lot about why I’m not on True North [an aggregate site for local conservative bloggers]. As for Power Line, I can’t speak for them, but as I said in my post, they should get involved if only to show they’re still relevant.

3. Then we have the general public. I think it’s fair to say that in Michael Brodkorb, you have one of the least sympathetic plaintiffs in recent memory. Those who knew him prior to the scandal regarded him as a singularly ruthless political operator, and those who didn’t, know him only as the guy who had an affair with a woman who was his superior and then turned around and sued the bosses the next level up, and is now running up a huge tab on the public dime. You can understand why the public doesn’t much care what happens to him, right?

JG: Yes, I understand that. But I also believe that as much as people want this over, and no one wants this to go to a federal trial, the cost of that would be staggering, the public also wants to see a fair process, without too much information.

And to that point, I remind people that Michael has been consistent about confidentiality for other staff people he knows about who have had similar relations.

What I’m arguing is different. It involves decisions made by elected officials in their official capacities. The public has a basic right to know what they said and did. But yes, the public sees a guy who had an extramarital relationship and who is arrogant in suing.

Michael is a very talented political player. But there are things I wish he’d done differently. Again, how you feel about Michael colors how you feel about the issues. The real issue, though, is that we don’t have people in the Senate who have the skill set to know when to settle a case like this.

4. Well, in the context of settling, I had a conversation a year or so ago with a prominent Republican money man, and I asked him if he had been approached to help pay off Brodkorb, or employ him somewhere, in exchange for dropping a long, embarrassing legal action that only further damages the party’s brand? His response to me was that he had, but that “the whole thing is so nefarious,” he didn’t want any connection to it.

What’s more, I’ve often thought that among elected Republicans, people who put themselves through the meat-grinder of campaigns, there was quite a bit of resentment toward a guy like Brodkorb who was flexing so much authority, with so much attitude, without having ever exposed himself to the electoral part of the game. Point being, they’re only too happy to see him die, figuratively speaking. What’s your sense of that scenario?

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JG:  I have no doubt that’s true, and that paybacks are hell. And that’s probably all I should say about that on the record.

5. The laugh line in your post on this was when you said, “I’m entitled to know what Sen. Bakk has said to others about this lawsuit, including political calculations not covered by the attorney-client privilege. I’ve always thought Senator Bakk should settle this lawsuit and hang it around Senator Hann’s neck. But that’s just lovable me.” Why Hann, exactly?

JG:  Because David Hann was absolutely instrumental in handling this whole thing in the worst way possible. Everyone knows Dave Senjem is not an effective leader. But Hann is supposedly smart. Again, everywhere you look you see personal animosity toward Michael Brodkorb getting in the way of doing what’s right for the people of Minnesota.

And that includes watching expenses on this case going through the roof, without any kind of review or challenge that I can see. $330 an hour is a nice rate. But has the Senate challenged any of those charges from [Dayle] Nolan? That’s usually a pretty routine process, asking a firm to delete things like fees for research by some aide. I don’t even see that happening.