Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tom Emmer hit with an attorney malpractice lawsuit from a former client

Lawsuit filed in Wright County District Court Sept. 21 by a longtime supporter who says he ‘thought Emmer was my friend.’

By Karl Bremer

Tom Emmer, Republican candidate for Governor of Minnesota, is the subject of an attorney malpractice lawsuit filed in Wright County District Court September 21 by a longtime supporter, friend and legal client.

The lawsuit was filed by Steven R. Hackbarth and his roofing contracting company, Hackbarth Enterprises Corporation, both of Silver Lake, a McLeod County town southwest of Emmer's hometown of Delano. Emmer represented Hackbarth in a legal proceeding that resulted in a judgment against Hackbarth and cost him his state contractor’s license.

According to Hackbarth, one of his roofing materials suppliers sued him in 2009 over money the supplier claimed Hackbarth owed him.

“People charged my account with the supplier and they weren’t supposed to,” says Hackbarth. “I was disputing that with my supplier, so I asked Emmer to represent me. But he didn’t file the documents he was supposed to file with the court. He showed up the day of the hearing,” but beyond that, Hackbarth says, “he didn’t do nothing.”

According to Hackbarth, Emmer botched his case. He says Emmer only filed discovery papers in the lawsuit a week before the hearing, and failed to properly file other court documents. Hackbarth said he couldn’t reach an agreement with his supplier to pay back the money the supplier claimed he was owed since “our money was all tied up because of our house burning down” in March 2009.

He lost the case with his supplier, and as a result of the judgment against him, the state Department of Labor and Industry revoked his contractors license in May of this year and levied a $10,000 fine against him, $8,000 of which was stayed.

Hackbarth says at the time Emmer was representing him, “he listed all the reasons why they shouldn’t have granted (the supplier) a summary judgment.” But after he lost the case, and Hackbarth hired a lawyer to file a malpractice case against Emmer, “he’s saying the reason it isn’t malpractice is because it wasn’t winnable … because he didn’t think we had a good case.” Emmer’s response to the malpractice lawsuit, says Hackbarth, “was that he didn’t file anything because he didn’t believe me. I told him, this is the first you ever said that, and you had a duty to tell me. You don’t just not file any documents. His defense (against the malpractice lawsuit) was even worse than what he did before.”

Hackbarth says he has evidence that “totally contradicts” what Emmer is saying now about the lawsuit with his supplier.

Now, Hackbarth says, “Emmer is getting all nasty about it, blaming it on me. They hired a private investigator who’s making all kinds of bogus claims. They told us we better drop the suit, and if we didn’t drop the suit, he was going to release information about the house fire.” Hackbarth says he suspects the private investigator Emmer hired is trying to “stir up some trouble.”

In addition to poking around in the circumstances of his house fire, Hackbarth says, “Now they say they’re going to sue me for slander. All he does is threaten and stuff.” And, he adds, “They keep flooding us with paperwork. They’re trying to crush me in legal fees.”

Hackbarth is represented by attorney Robert C. Hart of St. Louis Park. Hackbarth’s malpractice complaint was filed against Thomas E. Emmer and Emmer's law practice, Emmer and Associates PA, September 17. The same day, the following documents were filed by Emmer’s lawyer, Michael D. Schwartz of Chanhassen, who has represented Emmer in previous legal actions, or by others on Emmer’s behalf: a “Motion to Dismiss or Alternatively for Summary Judgment;” a “Memorandum of Law in Support of Emmer Law’s Motion to Dismiss or Alternatively for Summary Judgment;” an affidavit for Schwartz; an affidavit of Craig S. Larson (a Craig S. Larson is a licensed private detective in Minnesota); and an attestation of Patrick H. O’Neill Jr., a St. Paul legal malpractice lawyer.

The case was filed in Wright County District Court on September 21. A hearing on the Motion for Summary Judgment has been scheduled for November 8, six days after the Nov. 2 election.

Hackbarth says Emmer has represented him in previous legal matters, and that he’s been a longtime supporter of Emmer’s past political campaigns.

“If he would have just apologized, it probably never would have come to this,” says Hackbarth. “I pulled floats for him in parades for years. I have a John Deere tractor. My daughter has a goat, and we’d put a sandwich board on the goat with Emmer signs. And now all I got was kicked in the head. I thought he was my friend.”

Hackbarth’s allegations seem to fit the pattern of bullying that Emmer has displayed in past legal disputes, as reported in the Star Tribune earlier this year.

Emmer campaign spokesman Carl Kuhl says he was aware of the malpractice lawsuit but did not respond to a series of questions about it by 10 p.m. tonight. Michael Schwartz, Emmer’s lawyer, could not be reached for comment. Hackbarth’s lawyer, Robert Hart, declined to comment beyond the legal filings.


  1. Great post. I find these allegations by Hackbarth interesting, of course. But the dismay he must feel for the manner in which a former friend is treating him is an even bigger part of the story, in my estimation. I've linked here and written of your post, Karl. Thanks.
    -Ellen Mrja

  2. It is different filing no papers, doing no discovery, when Hackbarth is Emmer's client; then fiings like a snow fall, when Hackbarth is plaintiff against Emmer. Knowing how to file, and doing it, appear to be two different things. I have tracked down the online docket for Hackbarth v. Emmer, and what I think is the underlying suit where Hackbarth had Emmer as attorney of record, at least at the start. I will email screenshots in case you want to revise the post by adding the images.

  3. I think Emmers excuse that it was not malpractice because the case wasn't winnable essentially proves Emmers guilt..if case is a long shot, you tell your friend, "though you think you have been wronged, its likely we won't win this case becuase, but here are the things I can do, argue etc.." instead he hardly does anything and then, only when sued, uses the excuse it was not winnable. If this old friend of Emmer's had any signs from Emmer he was trying hard on his behalf, including explaining why his case was not winnable, this old friend would have not likely pursued the malpractice case. You he had to be really dissappointed in Emmer in every way to pursue this.

  4. I think this lawsuit is Emmers way to blame his attorney for not winning the case. Since he is aware on the so called "attorney malpractice lawsuit," he took advantage on it and filed it.

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