DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A panel of top state elected officials approved on Monday nearly half a million dollars more to cover attorney fees for former Gov. Terry Branstad’s continued fight against a jury verdict that found he discriminated against a gay former state executive.
The Iowa Executive Council approved a bill Monday for more than $488,000 for the Des Moines law firm representing the state, Branstad and his former legal counsel Brenna Findley. That brings the cost to taxpayers to defend them to more than $2.4 million.
A jury awarded former Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey $1.5 million in July after finding Branstad and Findley discriminated against Godfrey in 2011 because he’s gay by pressuring him to resign and retaliated against him when he refused to quit by cutting his pay.
Godfrey’s attorney, Roxanne Conlin, recently filed a motion seeking $3.5 million in fees and costs, all of which must be paid by taxpayers if approved by a judge. Additional costs continue to accrue as Branstad’s legal team files post-trial motions including efforts to get the trial judge to reverse the jury verdict and to get the judge to recuse himself from the case and assign a different judge.
The five-member council responsible for authorizing litigation expenses of the state has three Republicans — Gov. Kim Reynolds, Secretary of State Paul Pate and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and two Democrats including State Auditor Rob Sand and State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald.
The three Republicans voted to pay the bill. Fitzgerald has long opposed taxpayers being forced to pay for the defense of Branstad in the case and voted on Monday against approval
Sand, who voted to pay the bill, said earlier this month in a letter to other council members that he would not approve any appeal costs. He said he’s now concluded it’s time taxpayers are no longer forced into paying the bills for Branstad who is now the U.S. ambassador to China.
“There’s nothing else here that can defensibly be invested by taxpayers,” Sand said.
The trial ended July 15. The state has received additional bills for $290,000 for July and $73,000 for August from Branstad’s legal team which continues to file post-trial motions challenging the verdict and asking the trial judge to recuse himself and appoint a different judge. The committee hasn’t yet voted on those bills. Fitzgerald said even if he and Sand vote to stop paying for the case, the three Republicans on the council have a majority vote and could continue to make taxpayers pay the costs.
“This is one of those things that’s just gotten ridiculous,” he said. “When can we stop the bleeding?”
Sand joined Monday’s meeting, held at the Iowa Capitol, by telephone. He asked if any other council members had thoughts or questions on his letter asking to halt the case and no one responded.
Reynolds and Pate have not commented on Sand’s letter and Naig declined to comment.
Reynolds, who was Branstad’s lieutenant governor and had attended at least one meeting at which Branstad pressured Godfrey to resign, was initially named as a defendant but she was dropped from the case prior to trial.
Her spokesman said Monday the governor will consult with attorneys and decide whether to appeal after the current post-trial motions are decided.
Jurors after a six-week trial found that Branstad sought Godfrey’s resignation even though he was an appointed official whose job was designed to be insulated from political pressures. Although Branstad denied knowing Godfrey was gay and said his actions had nothing to do with sexual preference, jurors concluded otherwise and found discrimination and retaliation had occurred.