Senate Democrats say Governor Terry Branstad is racking up “excessive” legal bills by hiring private defense attorneys for lawsuits challenging his decisions as governor and they’re proposing legislation to try to “rein in” the process.
Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, cites the legal fees for a case involving the state’s worker compensation commissioner who sued after the governor tried to force him out of his job, then docked his pay when he wouldn’t leave.
“On the Chris Godfrey case alone, we’re around a half million dollars of expenditures,” Hogg says, “and remember, compared to what was at issue in that case — which is a pay reduction of $36,000 a year, that is grossly disproportionate and excessive.”
Hogg says businesses force lawyers to propose a budget for lawsuits.
“I’m interested in having a process in place that, like businesses, state government would have a way of controlling its costs when it engages outside counsel in litigation,” Hogg says.
Hogg is advancing a bill that would require what he calls “cost control mechanisms” for lawsuits involving the governor when the governor hires private defense attorneys.
“And we’ll see what kind of reaction we get from the public,” Hogg says. “If people support this, we will move it forward. If there’s not a huge groundswell of support, well, it’s out there. At least we’ve sent a message that people are watching.”
Iowa’s attorney general is the governor’s primary lawyer, but when the governor’s from one political party and the attorney general is from the other — as is the case today, the governor often hires outside counsel to handle cases. The state’s executive council which is made up of all the statewide elected officials approves those contracts with private lawyers.
The governor’s office is not commenting on Hogg’s bill, citing the unresolved lawsuit with the workers compensation commissioner. Godfrey was appointed to the job by former Democratic Governor Chet Culver and the term he’s been confirmed to serve hadn’t expired when Branstad asked him to leave. Godfrey, who is gay, accuses Branstad of sexual discrimination, extortion and defamation in his lawsuit.