Judge orders Iowa to pay an additional $3.1 million because Gov. Terry Branstad violated state’s LGBTQ discrimination law

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Iowa Governor and soon-to-be ambassador to China Terry Branstad speaks during Donald Trump’s Thank You Tour stop in Des Moines. Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The amount of money the state of Iowa will have to foot because Gov. Terry Branstad violated the state’s anti-LGBTQ discrimination law grew by more than $3 million on Friday.

In July, a Polk County jury found that Gov. Terry Branstad broke the law in 2011, when he tried to force Iowa Worker’s Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey, who is openly gay, to resign by cutting Godfrey’s salary from $112,068 to $73,250 (the lowest salary allowed by state law), drastically reducing the budget for Godfrey’s office and even eliminated the job of one of the commissioner’s assistants.

Branstad acknowledged that he took those actions to try to push Godfrey out of office — the governor lacks the authority to terminate Worker’s Compensation Commissioners, who are appointed to fixed terms — but claimed he only wanted to oust Godfrey because business groups told him Godfrey was too pro-worker in his worker’s compensation decisions. The former governor asserted Godfrey being gay had nothing to do with his actions.

The jury didn’t believe Branstad, now the ambassador to China, who returned to Iowa from Beijing to testify in the case. It awarded Godfrey $1.5 million in damages.

On Friday, Judge Brad McCall, who presided over the trial, issued an order requiring the state to pay Godfrey’s legal bills in the case, which are more than twice the amount of damages. The judge approved legal expenses totaling $3.1 million. The attorneys had asked for approximately $3.5 million.

The state has already paid $2.5 million to the private attorneys it hired to defend Branstad in the case, and those attorneys have already submitted a bill to the state for a further $377,905.

The legal bills are so high because the case was appealed to Iowa Supreme Court twice before it ever reached the jury.

The case, and its billable legal hours, aren’t over yet. In November, Gov. Kim Reynolds said it would be “irresponsible” not to appeal the jury’s verdict.

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