Minnesota Senate’s Legal Deal Remains Secret
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The private attorney hired by the Minnesota Senate to handle fallout from the former majority leader’s extramarital affair said Tuesday she doesn’t have a formal contract outlining her duties and refused to say how much she is being paid.
The Associated Press approached attorney Dayle Nolan after a Senate ethics hearing related to the affair, which cost Sen. Amy Koch her leadership post and led to the firing of a senior adviser. Nolan’s advice has been cited to justify limiting testimony in the ethics hearing related to the affair and actions GOP senators took in response.
Mirroring a pattern of secrecy set by Senate officials, Nolan answered “no” when asked if she had signed a contract and deflected other questions about how her deal is structured. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to respond,” Nolan said.
The Senate and some individuals have been threatened with lawsuits from Michael Brodkorb, the aide who was fired in connection with the affair. Brodkorb claims he was treated differently than female subordinates caught in affairs with their superiors. Nolan has been the legal point person for the Senate in dealing with Brodkorb’s attorneys.
But she also sat through hours of ethics committee hearings, met privately with ethics committee members and has been seen conferring with Senate in-house counsel during the ethics case involving GOP Sen. Geoff Michel.
For the second time in three weeks, the ethics panel deadlocked Tuesday on whether to dismiss or move ahead with a complaint against Michel. A former deputy majority leader at the time, Michel is accused by Democrats of breaching public trust by giving a misleading account of steps he took after finding out Koch and Brodkorb were engaged in an improper relationship.
Two Republicans on the committee say there isn’t probable cause to warrant a deeper investigation of Michel. Two Democrats say their attempts to ask Michel to match up his actions and public statements have been stymied by the lawyer’s warnings.
The committee went into recess after more than two hours of disagreement. The hearing continued in the evening, but the committee made no more progress in bridging its divide.
“We’re basically stuck in the mud here,” GOP Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen said. “We’re not going to get anywhere.”
The senator who lodged the ethics complaint, Democrat Sandy Pappas, said she had no intention of withdrawing it short of a public apology by Michel, who maintained his innocence.
“I believe this is about partisan politics and about retaliation and isn’t about ethics,” he said.
Nolan’s arrangement has been extraordinarily opaque for one involving a public body. Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman, who retained Nolan, has denied requests to view materials connected to her hire, won’t answer questions about her rates and deems most inquiries off-limits under the guise of attorney-client privilege.
Ludeman wouldn’t discuss the matter Tuesday, saying the “terms and conditions of what she’s expected to do is what I can’t tell you.” He declined to elaborate. The AP has requested information from Ludeman about Nolan’s deal verbally and in writing.
Even leading senators say they are in the dark.
“I have never seen a contract, don’t know if there is one,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, a Democrat. “The client is the entire state Senate. The question is, what authority does the secretary of the senate have to act on his own?”
Ludeman has said he believes any payment to Nolan will become public eventually, but he has not said how or when.
Nolan declined to discuss how she received the Senate work. She doesn’t appear to have deep political connections. State campaign finance data shows a mere $400 in donations over the last dozen years, $200 to a local Democratic Party chapter and $200 to former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Fellow attorneys at her law firm — Larkin Hoffman in Minneapolis — have scattered donations across the political spectrum.
Separately Tuesday, the GOP-led House unanimously approved an amendment to a broader government records bill that would explicitly declare that retainer agreements involving the Legislature and private attorneys are public data. Rep. Joe Atkins, a Democrat, said he sought the change after he tried and failed to get information from the Senate on what it was paying outside counsel in the Brodkorb matter.
The Republican-controlled Senate has not taken a similar vote.
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