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Rob Sand in Osage

State Auditor Rob Sand spoke to the public during a gathering at Osage City Hall on Oct. 1.

During an Oct. 1 appearance in Osage, State Auditor Rob Sand said the state lacks the grounds to sue former Gov. Terry Branstad to make him reimburse taxpayers for his defense in a case where a jury found Branstad had discriminated against a gay former state executive.

While addressing the public at a gathering at City Hall, Sand, a Democrat, said some members of his party aren't happy with his stance on this issue.

However, "I don't think we meet the standard legally to make Terry Branstad personally liable." 

Sand said he does believe the state has grounds to sue former Iowa Finance Authority director James Jamison, who was charged with sexual harassment, to force him to repay taxpayers for the $4 million settlement he paid the two victims who sued him. 

Sand was the only member of the state appeal board to vote against the settlement in February.

During his Osage visit, Sand said at the time be brought up a portion of the Iowa code that says a state official can he held financially liable in cases of "willful and wanton" behavior. 

Jamison not only sexually harassed employees, but also threatened those who tried to stop him telling them, "You must be allergic to a paycheck," Sand said. 

Even though the settlement was approved, Sand still believes the state can sue Jamison in order to reimburse taxpayers.

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The discrimination verdict against Branstad, the former GOP governor, who is now the U.S. ambassador to China, is different, according to Sand.  

A jury awarded former Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey $1.5 million in July after finding Branstad and his former legal counsel Brenna Findley discriminated against Godfrey in 2011 by pressuring him to resign and retaliating against him when he refused to quit by cutting his pay. 

Sand said one of the reasons he doesn't think Branstad's conduct met the "willful and wanton" standard is Godfrey's legal team did not seek punitive damages. 

On Sept. 30 a panel of top state elected officials approved nearly half a million dollars more to a Des Moines law firm that defended the state, Branstad and Findley in the Godfrey case.

That brings the cost to taxpayers to defend them to more than $2.4 million. 

The entire five-member council responsible for authorizing litigation expenses of the state voted to pay the latest $488,000 legal bill, with the exception of State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, the only other Democrat on the panel except for Sand. 

Although Sand believes the state should pay for the costs incurred by the defense during the trial, he said taxpayers should not be responsible for any future bills arising from Branstad's legal team efforts to fight the verdict. 

Sand said as the "taxpayer's watchdog" it bothers him the defense was, according to court transcripts, "the people who put Terry Branstad in the governor's office wanted him (Godfrey) gone." 

If the defense admitted during trial Branstad "stepped over the line," taxpayers should not have to pay for any legal bills for fighting the verdict, Sand said. 

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