Government

Iowa panel bills taxpayers $500K more in Branstad case

Jury found then-governor discriminated against gay worker

Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, now the U.S. ambassador to China, testifies June 14 in a Polk County courtroom. He is named in a lawsuit brought by a former state employee who asserts Branstad wanted him out because the employee is gay. A jury sided with the employee, ordering the state to pay a $1.5 million judgment in addition to legal fees. (Pool photo from the Des Moines Register)
Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, now the U.S. ambassador to China, testifies June 14 in a Polk County courtroom. He is named in a lawsuit brought by a former state employee who asserts Branstad wanted him out because the employee is gay. A jury sided with the employee, ordering the state to pay a $1.5 million judgment in addition to legal fees. (Pool photo from the Des Moines Register)

DES MOINES — A panel of top state elected officials this week approved 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 in July awarded former Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey $1.5 million after finding Branstad and Findley discriminated against Godfrey in 2011 because he’s gay — pressuring him to resign and retaliating 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 verdict and to get the judge to recuse himself.

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, Auditor Rob Sand and Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald.

The three Republicans voted to pay the bill on Branstad’s behalf.

Fitzgerald long has opposed taxpayers being forced to pay for the defense of Branstad in the case and voted against.

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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 Iowa taxpayers are no longer forced into paying the bills for Branstad, who is now the U.S. ambassador to China. Branstad flew in from China to testify.

The state has received additional bills for $290,000 for July and $73,000 for August from Branstad’s legal team. The committee hasn’t yet voted on those bills.

Sand, who joined this week’s meeting by phone, asked if any other council members had thoughts on his letter asking to halt the case. No one responded.

Reynolds, who was Branstad’s lieutenant governor, initially was named as a defendant but was dropped from the case before trial.

Her spokesman said she will consult with attorneys and decide whether to appeal.

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