State auditor: Taxpayers shouldn’t pay Branstad case appeal

Local News

FILE – In this July 12, 2018 file photo,U.S. ambassador to China and former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad speaks to reporters at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. Jury selection began Monday, June 3, 2019 in what is expected to be a monthlong civil trial over allegations that Branstad pressured an official to quit because he was gay, a case Branstad’s attorney predicts will escalate into an “unhinged attack on the Republican Party.” (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall File)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s auditor called Wednesday for other state officials to join him in refusing to pay appeal costs in a lawsuit filed against former Gov. Terry Branstad who was found by a jury to have discriminated against a former state official.

Auditor Rob Sand said in a letter sent Friday to the Iowa Executive Council that he plans to vote against any appeal costs in the lawsuit filed by former Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey against Branstad, the former Republican governor now serving as U.S. ambassador to China.

A jury awarded Godfrey $1.5 million in July after finding Branstad and a staffer discriminated against Godfrey in 2011 because he’s gay by pressuring him to resign and retaliated against him when he refused to quit by cutting his pay.

Sand is a member of the executive council, which is responsible for authorizing litigation expenses of the state. The five-member council has three Republicans — Gov. Kim Reynolds, Secretary of State Paul Pate and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and two Democrats including Sand and State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald.

The council has in past voted to approve the fees but in recent votes it’s been a 4-1 vote with Fitzgerald against the climbing costs. Sand said he’s now concluded it’s time taxpayers are no longer forced into paying.

“I want this to be done and I want Iowa to move on,” he said Wednesday. “There’s nothing else here that can defensibly be invested by taxpayers.”

Jurors unanimously concluded after a six-week trial that Branstad sought Godfrey’s resignation even though he was an appointed official whose job was designed to be insulated from political pressures. Although Branstad denied knowing Godfrey was gay and said his actions had nothing to do with sexual preference, jurors concluded otherwise and found discrimination and retaliation had occurred.

Branstad, who hired private attorneys to represent him instead of having the Iowa attorney general’s office work on his behalf, has accumulated about $2 million in legal fees while Godfrey’s attorney, Roxanne Conlin, recently filed a motion seeking $4.1 million in fees and costs, all of which must be paid by taxpayers if approved by a judge.

Reynolds and Pate did not immediately respond to messages. Naig declined to comment on Sand’s letter.

Reynolds, who was Branstad’s lieutenant governor and had attended at least one meeting at which Branstad pressured Godfrey to resign, was initially named as a defendant but she was dropped from the case prior to trial.

The council was scheduled to meet on Tuesday but the meeting was canceled.

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