The Iowa Supreme Court held a rare evening session tonight to hear arguments from two lawyers about the dispute over Governor Branstad’s attempt to oust the state workers compensation commissioner. Chris Godfrey has sued, charging Branstad targeted him for removal from his job because he’s gay.
“Mr. Godfrey’s cause of action accrued on the day that Terry Branstad told the state of Iowa that he was an incompetant fool,” Godfrey’s attorney, Roxanne Conlin, told the justices. “I think that is not true. That was defamation.”
George LaMarca is Branstad’s attorney.
“In this case it’s clear, even though they don’t like what the governor did, that he was fulfilling his duty to assess the performance of the commissioner and to set his salary,” LaMarca said.
Godfrey has been the state’s workers compensation commissioner since 2006, first appointed to the job by Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack, then reappointed by Governor Chet Culver, also a Democrat. The Iowa Senate confirmed Godfrey for a six-year term in the post that runs through April 30, 2015. When Republican Terry Branstad took over as the state’s chief executive in 2011, he asked Godfrey to resign and, when Godfrey refused, Branstad cut his salary by a third. Conlin told the court Godfrey is the “only openly gay official” in the executive branch.
“Prior to Terry Branstad’s election, he had been paid for several years at the top of the state’s pay scale,” Conlin said tonight. “…By all objective measures he has been and continues to be one of the best workers compensation commissioners that the state of Iowa has ever had.”
LaMarca, who previously has said Branstad did not know Godfrey was gay, argued Branstad has legal immunity for the actions he took.
“They want this court to rewrite a fundamental piece of public policy,” LaMarca said. “The district court refused to do that and I believe for good and sound public policy and statutory interpretation…this court should affirm the district court.”
The justices on the state’s supreme court peppered both lawyers with questions during tonight’s 45 minute session. One of the justices called it a “thin line case” about the scope of employment.
Godfrey, as the state’s workers compensation commissioner, oversees disputes between injured workers and their employers.
AUDIO of hearing, 45:00