Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey submitted his resignation to Governor Terry Branstad yesterday in order to become chief judge of the Employee’s Compensation Appeal Board in Washington, D.C. later this month. I haven’t seen any official reaction from the Branstad administration. The governor has been trying to get rid of Godfrey since late 2010, even though the Iowa Senate had unanimously confirmed him to a fixed term as Workers’ Compensation Commissioner until 2015. During the summer of 2011, Branstad docked Godfrey’s pay after sending his chief of staff and legal counsel to demand his resignation one more time. The governor couldn’t articulate any reason for being dissatisfied with Godfrey, other than saying, “business groups in Iowa […] told me in no uncertain terms that they were not happy with the direction under Mr. Godfrey.” Branstad staffers publicly criticized Godfrey’s work, which along with the pay reduction and pressure to resign led to a defamation and discrimination lawsuit against the state of Iowa and six senior officials, including Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds.
Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Godfrey can sue individual officials as well as the State of Iowa for defamation, extortion and other claims. Yesterday, Godfrey’s attorney Roxanne Conlin confirmed that the lawsuit will move forward. I’ve posted her comments below, along with reaction from Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jack Hatch. Polk County District Court Judge Arthur Gamble told attorneys last week that a firm trial date will be set for sometime in 2015. Depositions are only just beginning in a case that has already cost the state of Iowa more than $500,000 in legal fees.
If Godfrey weren’t doing his job well, he would not have been offered a more senior and prestigious position in the same line of work. I don’t know whether Branstad wanted to get rid of him because Godfrey is openly gay, as the lawsuit alleges, or because the governor was taking marching orders from business groups. Either way, the governor never should have bullied and badgered this highly capable person, and the state should have settled this lawsuit a long time ago.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
P.S.- Has any Iowa governor ever hired a worse legal counsel than Brenna Findley? She’s supposed to steer her boss away from legal problems, not provide fodder for a lawsuit. Nor is this case her only misstep. Last summer, Findley contradicted legal advice from the Iowa Attorney General’s office and the attorney for the Iowa Board of Medicine, encouraging that board to move forward with abortion restrictions that have been temporarily blocked and will probably be struck down in a separate lawsuit.
UPDATE: Todd Dorman hits on the most disturbing aspect of this “saga”: “Truth is, governors have the power to make dozens and dozens of powerful appointments. The fact that Branstad would go to these lengths to get his hands on one job that eluded his grasp tells you quite a bit about how he views the limits of executive power. After nearly 20 years, he doesn’t see any.”
Facebook state Roxanne Conlin posted on August 4:
Chris Godfrey who is on every objective measure, the best Workers Compensation Commissioner Iowa has ever had, has resigned today to take a much bigger job in DC as Chief Judge of the Appeal Board for Federal Workers Compensation. He resigned on his own terms. Governor Branstad demanded he do so, thereby putting at risk judicial independence and the faith that workers and businesses should have in their system to compensate injured workers. He declined so Branstad and his staff lowered his salary by 40,000 dollars a year and defamed him in every possible way. But what can you expect from this corrupt administration! The case will proceed. We fully expect to win a verdict that will fully compensate Chris for the hell he has lived for more than 3 years.
August 4 statement from State Senator Jack Hatch:
I congratulate Chris Godfrey on his appointment as chief judge of the Employee’s Compensation Appeal Board in Washington, D.C. Chris is a talented lawyer and dedicated public servant. He’s provided exemplary service on the Iowa Worker’s Compensation Commission. The Governor’s actions, including reducing his pay and forcing Chris to file a lawsuit for defamation of character, all because Chris is gay, were unwarranted. There should be zero tolerance for the Governor’s actions.