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Civic Skinny

State legal fees hit $460,000 in Godfrey case

6/19/2013

When last we left Christopher Godfrey, the only openly gay department head in the Branstad administration, he was toiling away as head of the state Workers’ Compensation office, though he had taken a pay cut of nearly $40,000.

When last we left Terry Branstad, he was trying his damnedest to fire Godfrey, a Democrat who was twice overwhelmingly confirmed in bipartisan votes in the Iowa senate and who has a six-year term that runs to April 30, 2015. Why? Did we mention that Godfrey is gay?

When last we left the LaMarca & Landry Law Firm, it was getting $325 an hour to defend the state and six individual defendants in the discrimination, defamation and extortion lawsuit Godfrey filed in early 2012.

So where do things stand today?

• The state has so far paid LaMarca & Landry $459,412.95 in legal fees. Yes, four-hundred-fifty-nine-thousand-four-hundred-twelve dollars and ninety-five cents. So far. At $325 an hour, that would represent 1,413 hours billed.

• The lawsuit is wending its way through the court system. In a rather rare move, at the request of Godfrey’s lawyers the Iowa Supreme Court earlier this year agreed to decide a key issue even before a lower-court ruled in the overall case, meaning more months of delay and more briefs. At $325 an hour.

• The governor and his staff continue to target Godfrey’s staff and his budget and scrutinize his every move. The state sent back an expense account because he overtipped a waiter by 19 cents.

• And Godfrey says he continues to be shunned by the Branstad administration and many of its top people, including his direct boss, Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert.

Within a month of his election in 2010, Branstad sent Godfrey a letter demanding his resignation. A week later — still a month before the governor took office — he summoned Godfrey to a meeting with himself and some key advisers and again demanded his resignation. Godfrey refused. Eight months later, in July of 2011, Godfrey again was summoned to a meeting with top Branstad aides and asked to resign. Again, he refused.

So they cut his pay from $112,000 a year to $73,500, the lowest the state can pay him legally. At that meeting, no one criticized his performance.

But, then, Godfrey is gay.

And that, apparently, is enough to prompt the governor to spend close to half a million dollars — so far — to try to get him out of office.

Godfrey’s suit alleges that gubernatorial aides have tried to intimidate and harass him, alleges that he is being discriminated against because he is gay, and alleges, among other things, “intentional interference with contract, defamation, extortion and various Constitutional violations.” His lawyer is Roxanne Conlin. Defendants are the governor, Wahlert, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and top gubernatorial aides Brenna Findley, Timothy Albrecht and Jeff Boeyink.

Outside of Branstad’s office, Godfrey is widely regarded as being very good at his job. So good, in fact, that he is a finalist to be the director of the Federal Office of Workers Compensation Programs in the Department of Labor in Washington. He would report directly to the Secretary of Labor. He would oversee eight regional offices and 1,700 fulltime employees, compared to the 25 he now oversees. He would have a budget of $365 million, compared to the $3.1 million budget he now has. And he would make a lot more than $73,500 a year. Or $112,000 a year.

He did not apply for the job. He was sought out by people in Washington, presumably because he is among the best commissioners in the country.

Even though he is gay.

So what’s next? The Iowa Supreme Court is not likely to take up the issue in the case until next fall. So the proceedings in district court will be on hold at least until then. The issue is whether the individuals who were sued acted in their “scope of employment” — as the Iowa Attorney General wrote at the behest of the governor’s office, with no notice, evidence or public hearing — and thus can’t be sued for defamation and extortion.

CVA_13PAGE 5Whether Godfrey stays in Iowa or goes to Washington is immaterial for the lawsuit. Specifically, it alleges that Godfrey “has in the past and will in the future suffer mental and emotional harm and anguish, anxiety, fear, depression, loss of enjoyment of life, degradation, disgrace, uncertainty, apprehensiveness, grief, restlessness, dismay, tension, and unease, pain and suffering and has in the past and will in the future suffer loss of wages, loss of earning capacity, benefits and other emoluments of employment.”

Meantime, Godfrey is at his desk, the governor is on the stump, and the attorneys at LaMarca and Landry are calculating their billable hours.

At the current pace, they’ll hit half a million dollars by the end of August.

But so far they’re only at four-hundred-fifty-nine-thousand-four-hundred-twelve dollars and ninety-five cents. …

The news doesn’t seem to have gotten to Iowa, but an aide to Sen. Chuck Grassley and a former aide are being questioned by the Justice Department and the FBI about insider stock trading.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Grassley aide Rodney Whitlock is being investigated to determine if he “may have been involved in sharing information about an important government decision with Wall Street this spring.” The feds want to know if he shared information on a health-care funding decision — a decision that moved stocks — with Mark Hayes, a former Grassley aide, who may have tipped off investors.

The Journal quoted a Grassley spokesperson as saying “Rodney could not possibly have conveyed to Mark Hayes or anyone else” the information in question “because he didn’t know.” The story also quoted the spokeswoman as saying the Justice Department has told Senate lawyers that Whitlock is not a target of its investigation.

The newspaper said the inquiry is unusual, and “Making matters more unusual, the Iowa senator is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Justice Department.”

The Washington Post reported that Grassley’s office said more than 400 people knew about the decision as much as two weeks before it was announced. …

Meantime, the Post last week awarded Grassley two “Pinocchios” for what it viewed as his misleading claim that the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington “ranks last or almost last in nearly every category that measures workload.” He made the statement while arguing that the President should not fill the three vacancies on that court.

The fight is about politics, and in fact, the Post’s fact-checker reported, “depending on the metrics, the D.C. Circuit could very well be in first place.”

On the Post’s Pinocchio scale, two Pinocchios means a statement had “significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people.”

The scale goes up to four Pinocchios. The one-word definition for that rating: “Whoppers.” CV

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