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Court reinstates claim against Branstad

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Gov. Terry Branstad and top aides could be held personally liable if a jury decides that they defamed the workers’ compensation commissioner and improperly cut his salary during an attempt to force his resignation, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The 5-2 decision means that a lawsuit filed by Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey returns to a lower court for trial. It also sets a new standard that allows state officials to more easily be sued as individuals, which is expected to affect other pending lawsuits involving the Branstad administration. It means they — not taxpayers — will have to cover damages and attorneys’ fees if juries find that they broke the law and were acting outside the scope of their employment.

“I think it’s a victory for all Iowans. It basically says that nobody is above the law — nobody — including the governor,” said Godfrey’s attorney, Roxanne Conlin, adding that she plans to depose Branstad before the November election in which he’s seeking another four-year term.