Judge blocks Branstad’s deposition in firing of Hedlund

DES MOINES (AP) — Gov. Terry Branstad praised a judge Monday for ruling that he does not have to face deposition in a lawsuit filed by a fired state agent who accuses the governor of defamation.
Former Division of Criminal Investigation agent Larry Hedlund had asked a judge to require Branstad to take questions under oath for two to three hours. But District Judge William Kelly rejected the request Friday, hours before the videotaped deposition was scheduled to occur.
The judge said Hedlund’s lawyers could get the information through less burdensome measures such as written questions for the governor, who is preparing to become U.S. ambassador to China and overseeing a fast-moving legislative session.
Branstad told reporters Monday that state lawyers felt the deposition “would be really a waste of my time.”
“The whole case against me is that I gave an honest answer at a press conference,” he said.
Hedlund’s wrongful termination lawsuit alleges the governor defamed him during a 2013 press conference by saying Hedlund was fired for the “morale and safety and well-being of the department,” and that the termination was “fair and just.” Hedlund argues he was fired for reporting misconduct, including an incident in which a state trooper driving Branstad was clocked going 84 mph in a 65-mph zone but wasn’t cited.
Hedlund was removed from duty after complaining to superiors — who are also named as defendants — that Branstad’s security detail had a practice of speeding with impunity.
Hedlund, an award-winning criminal investigator who handled many high-profile cases, alleges the governor’s suggestion that he was a safety problem destroyed his career. He’s now a detective in Fort Dodge. The state has said Hedlund was fired for insubordination.
At the 2013 press conference, the governor denounced the former agent’s allegations as “false accusations of retaliation” and called on Hedlund’s lawyer to make public a confidential 500-page investigation, saying the public should know “the truth.”
Hedlund’s lawyers wanted to ask Branstad in a deposition about the basis for those comments. The Iowa attorney general’s office, which is representing the governor, argued a deposition would “significantly interfere” with Branstad’s duties.
Kelly — appointed by Branstad in 2015 — ruled that high-ranking government officials generally cannot be deposed for actions taken during their official duties. He found that Hedlund “failed to show exceptional circumstances” that would call for an exception, but said he may reconsider the issue if Hedlund’s lawyers can’t obtain information through other methods.
Hedlund lawyer Tom Duff said he was disappointed but the case, set for a December trial, would go forward.