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Kansas state senator challenging former campaign manager's jobless benefits

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Republican state Sen. Jim Barnett is challenging the state's decision granting unemployment benefits to his campaign manager after Barnett lost last year's governor's race.

Barnett's attorney, Monte Miller, filed a lawsuit against the Kansas Department of Labor seeking to reverse its decision making jobless compensation available to Christian Morgan, now the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party.

According to court documents filed by Miller, Barnett considered Morgan to be an "independent contractor," not an employee of his campaign for governor. Miller contends that means Morgan was not entitled to the $1,700 in unemployment benefits he received.

Barnett lost the November election to Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The lawsuit, filed in Shawnee County District Court in April, seeks to overturn an administrative judge's February ruling and an April decision by the state Employment Security Board of Review that Morgan qualified for unemployment benefits.

Morgan expressed surprise at Barnett's challenge when contacted by The Topeka Capital-Journal for a story Sunday.

"I didn't know anything about this," Morgan said. "This is the strangest thing I've ever heard."

Morgan said he was employed by Barnett's campaign from March to November of last year.

"I needed to pay some bills until I found another job," Morgan said.

Barnett and Morgan signed a contract in March 2006 setting his monthly salary at $4,500 and declaring contents of the arrangement confidential.

The three-page contract refers to Morgan performing the services of "an independent contractor and consultant" and states that he "will not be considered an employee of the candidate or an employee of the candidate's committee for any purpose."

However, Administrative Judge Dwight Radke ruled that Morgan was an employee "never free from the control or direction" of Barnett and that the contract didn't override that employee-employer relationship.

District Court Judge David Bruns will hold a meeting with the parties of the lawsuit on June 21 unless a settlement is reached.

Barnett would not say if the lawsuit was related to his request to the Emporia Police Department that it investigate affairs of his gubernatorial campaign. Barnett repeatedly has declined to discuss details of the criminal investigation.

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Information from: The Topeka Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com

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