Ex-client sues EmmerST. PAUL — It’s a late-campaign distraction Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer vigorously tried to head off, even to the point of enlisting a private investigator.
By: Associated Press, Worthington Daily Globe
ST. PAUL (AP) — It’s a late-campaign distraction Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer vigorously tried to head off, even to the point of enlisting a private investigator.
With less than four weeks left, the Republican has found himself confronting a recently filed malpractice lawsuit by a former client, Steven Hackbarth, who says the Delano attorney mishandled his case. The candidate’s allies have challenged Hackbarth’s credibility, accusing him of filing, in the words of Emmer’s personal attorney, a “shakedown lawsuit” that lacks merit.
“The political motivation behind this lawsuit is painfully clear,” Emmer attorney Michael Schwartz said Friday. “If Tom Emmer wasn’t running for governor, there’s no way in the world this lawsuit would have been brought.”
Splashy allegations often surface late in races, sometimes lodged by political opponents aiming to raise questions about a candidate’s character. Emmer is in a tight race against Democrat Mark Dayton, with the Independence Party’s Tom Horner polling in the teens.
Hackbarth describes himself as a former supporter who used his tractor to pull Emmer’s float in parades when he was running for the state House. He said he didn’t time his lawsuit to pressure Emmer and first aired his grievance privately in April. Hackbarth admits he won’t vote for Emmer next month but said he hasn’t decided who he’ll back.
The case is unlikely to be resolved before the Nov. 2 election; the next hearing isn’t scheduled until Nov. 8.
Hackbarth, the owner of a roofing company, filed the lawsuit in Wright County three weeks ago, but it didn’t receive attention until a partisan blog posted details Thursday night.
Hackbarth argues Emmer put up a shoddy defense in a 2009 civil case that ultimately cost him his contractor license and a $30,000 judgment to a company trying to recover payments for roofing supplies.
Emmer was the lawyer for Hackbarth Enterprise Corp. in a case where Hackbarth was a separately named defendant. Records show Hackbarth represented himself in court, a technicality that could doom his case because Emmer never represented the owner personally.
Hackbarth’s lawsuit says Emmer didn’t file any paperwork in the supply case and came to court unprepared. An Emmer filing said he was hired on short notice and sought more time from a judge — to no avail — to build a defense. Schwartz said Emmer couldn’t ethically put up a defense without proper evidence.
Emmer withdrew as Hackbarth’s attorney last September, a couple of months after he announced his run for governor.
In an interview Friday, Hackbarth said his lawyer reached out to Emmer in April, but was put off for months. Hackbarth said he decided that Emmer and his attorney “really didn’t want to settle anything or accomplish anything constructively” and his only option was to file the lawsuit.
Court records show Emmer developing a dual-track plan to, in the best case, avoid the malpractice filing altogether and, in the worst, undercut its legitimacy.
In late July, Schwartz hired the private investigator to look into a suspicious fire at Hackbarth’s home in early 2009, according to an affidavit. Schwartz also corresponded with Hackbarth’s lawyer, Robert Hart, in hopes of a “mutually beneficial resolution” before anything got to court.