Governor Branstad has gotten clearance to hire a private attorney who charges $325 an hour to work on a lawsuit filed against the Republican governor.
State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald says he and the other three members who were at the state Executive Council meeting this morning had little choice but to approve the deal since aides in the state’s attorney general’s office said the governor had a “strong preference” for outside counsel — and someone in the attorney general’s office may be called as a witness in the case.
“I thought it was a shame that we had to hire outside counsel, pay them $325 an hour which is four times our normal rate, to defend the governor’s office in this case where he has allegedly demoted someone because, I understand, he’s a homosexual,” Fitzgerald says.
Branstad asked the state’s Workers Compensation Commissioner to resign last year. When Commissioner Chris Godfrey refused, the governor cut Godfrey’s annual salary by $36,000. Godfrey’s lawsuit alleges Branstad targeted him because he’s gay. George LaMarca of Des Moines is the attorney Branstad has hired to work on the case. Fitzgerald, who is a Democrat, suggests there may have been another attorney available who wouldn’t have charged as much.
“To have someone charging us $325 an hour seems exorbitant. It seems a big cost to the taxpayer for what I would think would be a normal employee-relations type of struggle here,” Fitzgerald says. “So it’s a big expense and I hate to us go through it, but since the attorney general’s office couldn’t represent the folks, we had to approve it.”
The lawsuit names both Branstad and Brenna Findley — the governor’s legal counsel — as defendants, so she can’t work as the governor’s attorney on the case either. Fitzgerald says there’s “no question” the state will wind up paying more than $36,000 which is the salary cut Branstad ordered for the Workers Compensation Commissioner.
“If any of you have been through court cases, legal fees ring up very fast,” Fitzgerald says. “We could be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees just to argue over this one individual’s demotion in pay.”
The Workers Compensation Commission is seeking $1 million in damages from the state in his lawsuit over his demotion.