courts

Urbandale and Des Moines police departments

The man charged in the ambush killings of two Des Moines-area police officers is withdrawing his not guilty pleas. Scott Greene now admits to killing Urbandale police officer Justin Martin and Des Moines sergeant Tony Beminio last November. Polk County Attorney John Sarcone says writings and drawings on Greene’s jail cell walls following his arrest tied him to the case.

“They are essentially admissions of his responsibility in this matter," he says. "He drew pictures of each officers face.”

Flickr / bloomsberries

A 49-year-old woman from northwest Iowa has been sentenced to more than four years in federal prison for a fraud in which she sold non-existent tickets and accommodations to the Super Bowl and other sports events.

Ranae Van Roekel of Hull plead guilty last summer to one count of mail fraud and another count of filing a false tax return in relation to the scheme.

According to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Sioux City, while Van Roekel was awaiting sentencing she engaged in another scheme to sell non-existent gift bags.

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Adrian Pingstone / Wikipedia

Cedar Rapids is considering whether to appeal a ruling by an Iowa judge in a lawsuit over highway speed cameras. It affirms the Iowa Department of Transportation’s right to order the removal of some cameras.

Mayor Ron Corbett says attorneys are taking a few days to review the judge's ruling. 

"The Cedar Rapids City Council will probably decide at their next council meeting whether we want to join Des Moines and Muscatine and appeal the case," Corbett says.

Cedar Rapids takes in more revenue from traffic cameras than any other city in the state. 

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The City of Cedar Rapids and a police officer are denying all allegations in a lawsuit over a police shooting that left a man paralyzed from the neck down. 

In responses filed last week, the City of Cedar Rapids and police officer Lucas Jones state they are not liable for injuries or damages to Jerime Mitchell and his wife.

Mitchell sued the city and Jones after Jones shot him during a traffic stop last November.

John Pemble/IPR

The chief administrator for the judicial branch of state government is warning court employees across the state of possible layoffs or reduced courthouse hours, if a proposed GOP judicial branch budget is approved at the statehouse.   

In a memo to staff, David Boyd briefed employees on the proposed budget for next year which reduces judicial branch spending by $3 million compared to this year. 

Boyd said tough decisions will need to be made.

WIKICOMMONS / Farragutful

Five counties in eastern Iowa are trying out a less formal approach to family court in hopes of resolving cases faster and preserving court resources.  

Judge Nancy Tabor of Scott County says currently her docket is full of people representing themselves. Most people aren’t familiar with the court system, which means these cases take a lot of time.

So Tabor is trying out a more straightforward approach.

jones and mitchell dash cam
YouTube

A man who was shot by a Cedar Rapids police officer last fall is suing the city. Jerime Mitchell has been paralyzed from the neck down since the shooting, which happened during a traffic stop in November.

Mitchell and his wife are suing the city and Officer Lucas J0nes for negligence, “reckless, willful and wanton” actions, assault and battery, infliction of emotional distress and loss of consortium.

The details of the shooting presented in the lawsuit are very different from those made public by county and state authorities late last year.

Flickr / Farragutful

The Iowa Supreme Court says a valid traffic stop can’t be prolonged without reasonable suspicion, once the original cause for that stop is resolved. As a result a man's aggravated misdemeanor conviction has been overturned. 

EIGHTH CIRCUIT BAR ASSOCATION

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Iowa and six other Midwestern states, will soon be the most "lopsided" federal appeals court in terms of the number of judges appointed by a single party.

As Rox Laird writes in the Iowa appellate court blog "On Brief", due to several retirements, President Donald Trump is expected to appoint three new judges to the Eight Circuit’s bench. This means only one of the court’s eleven judges won’t be a Republican appointee.

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Iowa’s Judicial Branch is the first division of state government to announce a mandatory furlough as a  result of budget cuts for the fiscal  year that ends in June.   

Court offices will close for one day and employees will take unpaid leave.  

Governor Branstad recommended a more than $7 million cut to the judicial branch.   Lawmakers scaled that back to $3 million.  

In a memo to court employees, state court administrator David Boyd unveiled how courts would absorb the cut.  

FLICKR / JIMMY EMERSON, DVM

The former city clerk of Casey, Iowa was sentenced on Friday to five years in prison for mail fraud and the arson of a community building.

Flickr / Katy Warner

A Muscatine woman argued at the Iowa Supreme Court that since the employment of immigrants is regulated by the federal government, she’s protected from state identity theft charges. How the high court rules has significant implications for Iowa's undocumented immigrant community. 

In 1997, 11-year-old Martha Martinez came to the US as an undocumented immigrant. In 2014 she was charged with using a fake identity to gain employment.

Sarah Boden/IPR

Two staffers from Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign were sentenced Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Des Moines. Campaign Chairman Jesse Benton and Campaign Manger John Tate will each serve two years of probation and pay a $10,000 fine.

In May the men and a third staffer, Deputy Campaign Manger Demitri Kesari, were convicted of conspiring to create and submit false campaign finance reports to the Federal Election Commission. 

Tate, Benton and their wives appeared emotional and relieved upon hearing the sentences.

AMY MAYER/IPR FILE PHOTO

The City of Des Moines’s water utility is trying to sue 10 drainage districts in northwest Iowa in federal court, accusing the districts of polluting the Raccoon River. But first, Des Moines Water Works must convince the state Supreme Court that drainage districts can be held liable.

The drainage districts assert that for over a century, the Iowa Supreme Court has held that they can’t be sued for a civil wrong due to their limited authority. Attorney Michael Reck told the court during oral arguments Wednesday that it should stand by its previous rulings.

Flickr / Jeff Gitchel

The much anticipated ruling on felon voting from the Iowa Supreme Court will be released Thursday morning.

Iowa has one of the most restrictive felon voting policies in the nation.

It is one of three states that permanently disenfranchises someone if they commit a felony. 

That’s because Iowa’s constitution states anyone convicted of an infamous crime forever loses the right to vote. So what’s an infamous crime? The Iowa Supreme Court will likely tell us.  

A New Jersey man and his companies have agreed to pay $45,000 to the state of Iowa in the settlement of an alleged psychic mail scam.

Timothy Clements owns both TCA Mailing Inc. and T. Clements & Associates Inc. The state of Iowa suspects these companies marketed to and billed at least one Iowan in a psychic services scam.

Iowa Public Radio / John Pemble

A person in Iowa can’t be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits if they lose their job because they’re in jail. That's according to a four-to-three decision from the state's supreme court.

In late 2013 medical assistant Sondra Irving of North Liberty spent nearly four weeks in jail, unable to post a bail of $17,500.

The charges were later dropped, but because Irving had been incarcerated for so long, she’d lost her job at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

New reforms to Iowa sentencing code in the areas of child endangerment, non-violent drug offense, and robbery were signed into law on Thursday. Gov. Terry Branstad calls the legislation "a balanced approach" aimed at making Iowa’s criminal justice system more equitable.

Child Endangerment

People convicted of child endangerment resulting in death in Iowa now must serve 30 to 70 percent of their sentence before they can be paroled. Though the crime has the sentence of 50 years, offenders have been immediately eligible for parole.

Flickr / Mike Lewis

Iowa tenants scored a victory at the state Supreme Court today. As a result, landlords have less power to withhold security deposits, or shift repair costs onto tenants.

The court ruled that landlords cannot charge automatic fees. And they must pay for all repairs, as long damages aren’t caused by tenants.

The case arose in 2011 after a University of Iowa student sued the Iowa City rental agency Apartments Downtown in small claims court.

Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia / Wikimedia Commons

Supporters of a sentencing reform bill approved by the Iowa legislature this session call it a "step in the right direction," despite the fact that there is bipartisan agreement that more steps are needed to address racial disparities in Iowa's criminal justice system.

The bill is awaiting Governor Terry Branstad's signature.

Photo by John Pemble

A GOP state senator wants clerks of court around the state to keep their offices open during all normal business hours, in spite of a limited judicial branch budget for next year.  

Court officials warn they may have to reduce office hours or furlough workers under a judicial branch status quo spending plan.

In 2009, court employees took unpaid leave and offices were closed for several days to accommodate a nearly four million dollar cut in the judicial branch budget. Hours were reduced in some counties again in 2013.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Hundreds of lawsuits against seed company Syngenta could develop into a major class-action potentially involving almost every corn farmer in the country.

In 2013, China rejected certain American imports because they contained corn grown from Viptera seeds, a Syngenta product with a new genetically engineered trait. The trait was approved for sale in the United States, but China's regulators had not yet approved it, though they have since.

Iowa Public Radio / John Pemble

The Iowa Supreme Court on Thursday heard the appeal of an Iowa woman who was denied unemployment benefits after missing work and subsequently losing her job as a medical assistant because she was in jail. Sondra Irving missed more than three weeks of work after being held at the Johnson County Jail in late 2013, in part because she couldn’t make bail which was set at $17,500.

Iowa Public Radio / John Pemble

The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments Monday night in the appeal of a 100-year sentence given to a Waterloo man in 2013. Donald Reed was convicted on drug-related charges and received an enhanced sentence because of a prior crime he committed when he was 17.  

Flickr / JOE GRATZ

The Iowa Supreme Court meets at Valley High School in West Des Moines tonight where it will consider whether an enhanced sentence is constitutional if the initial crime committed occurred when the offender was a minor.

In 2013, Donald Reed of Waterloo was given a 100-year prison sentence, with the possibility of parole after a third of the time served, for convictions on drug-related charges. This was an enhanced sentenced due to a previous drug offense he committed at age 17. 

John Pemble/IPR file photo

An Iowa man convicted of first-degree murder in 1992 will be resentenced. This comes as little surprise following the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling this summer in State of Iowa vs. Yvette Louisell

Eric Querrey was 15 when he shot and killed 16-year-old Stacy Halferty. He received the mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Emily Woodbury / Iowa Public Radio

Before the 1980s, we assumed that wrongful convictions were rare. Then came Peter Neufeld and the Innocence Project. Through DNA testing, Neufeld and his organization have helped to exonerate more than 300 people of crimes they were wrongfully convicted of committing.

“We thought we could look at old cases where people were tried on other evidence like eye-witness testimony and test the hypothesis of innocence,” he says.

John Pemple/IPR file photo

Iowa U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley is among those sponsoring legislation aimed at recalibrating prison sentences for certain drug offenders.  Grassley appeared at a Washington news conference today with Senators from both parties.  He called the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 a significant change in how the courts treat lower-level drug crimes.

John Pemble/IPR file

On Mother’s Day 2012, 17-year-old Isaiah Sweet of Manchester put on earmuffs, loaded ten bullets into an assault rifle, and shot his grandparents in the head. He was later sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

Thursday, the Iowa Supreme Court was asked if that’s ever an appropriate sentence for a juvenile in Iowa.

Iowa Public Radio / John Pemble

Wednesday is the first day of the Iowa Supreme Court's 2015-2016 session. The high court will hear five cases, including one questioning when someone should be given the Miranda Warning, which is the right to remain silent when in police custody and the right to legal counsel. 

Zyriah Schlitter was found guilty in 2012 of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment resulting in the death of his 17-month-old daughter Kamryn. During his trial, Schlitter made statements that conflicted with a taped interview conducted by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. 

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