Courts

Crime, Justice and Public Safety

Jon Pemble/IPR file

Judges and justices often make unpopular decisions, and these decisions may come back to haunt them come election season.

For Supreme Court justices in Iowa, that’s every eight years. And this November, Chief Justice Mark Cady, along with Justices Daryl Hecht and Brent Appel will be on the ballot.

Voters will not be asked to choose between the current justices and a challenger; rather with a retention election, voters are simply asked if each justice should keep his or her job.

But, many dislike Iowa’s judicial retention system.

IOLTA / Office of Professional Regulation, Iowa Judicial Branch

Nearly $240,000 in grants will be given to 14 Iowa legal non-profits that assist low-income people. This funding comes from the state's Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account program, which has suffered extreme decreases over the past decade.

So while this year's grants total $28,000 more than what was distributed in 2015-16, the funding is still less than what some legal service organizations say they need. 

AUSTIN KIRK/FLICKR

The three-month prison sentences for two egg-industry executives has been upheld by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Last year, Jack DeCoster and his son Peter both pleaded guilty to negligence in relation to insanitary conditions at Quality Egg's Iowa-based  facilities. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as a result of these conditions, a salmonella outbreak sickened perhaps as many as 56,000 people.

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.  

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Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down one of the biggest cases on abortion in a quarter century. The court also issued several other rulings, including a case about affirmative action in college admissions, and another regarding when people convicted of domestic violence can own a gun. What does it all mean for you, and how will these cases reverberate around Iowa and around the nation?

The Iowa Supreme Court was unable to decide Friday when someone is entitled to counsel, though a drunk driver's conviction stands. A three-three-one ruling from the high court leaves the door open for future constitutional challenges. 

In September 2014, 29-year-old John A. Senn was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in Des Moines on Court Avenue. Senn was taken to the Des Moines police station where he refused to take a breathalyzer test until he spoke with his attorney.

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.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Sen. Chuck Grassley and a bi-partisan group of senators are calling on Congress to pass legislation that reforms the way sexual assault cases are prosecuted in the military. 

The Military Justice Improvement Act would strip the decision of whether a serious crime goes to trial from the chain of command, and place it with trained military prosecutors.

Grassley says it’s clear the Defense Department can’t be trusted to prosecute cases, in light of new information that shows the Pentagon deceived Congress on how military sexual assaults are handled.

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.

The jury has returned across-the-board guilty verdicts in the federal conspiracy trial of three senior staffers from former Texas Congressman Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Campaign Director John Tate, Campaign Chair Jesse Benton, and Campaign Deputy Director Dimitri Kesari all could serve decades in prison for charges related to disguising payments to an Iowa state senator in exchange for his endorsement of Ron Paul. Upon hearing the verdict, Benton's wife Valori, who is Paul's granddaughter, began to audibly cry.

The jury deliberations began Wednesday afternoon in the federal conspiracy trial of three senior staffers from Ron Paul's 2012 Presidential Campaign. 

Campaign Director John Tate, Campaign Chair Jesse Benton and Campaign Deputy Director Demitri Kesari are accused disguising payments to former state senator Kent Sorenson in exchange for his endorsement.  

IOWA PUBLIC RADIO / SARAH BODEN

The defense rested early Tuesday afternoon in the federal trial of three senior staffers from Ron Paul’s 2012 Presidential Campaign. The jury will hear closing arguments beginning Wednesday morning.

Judge John Jarvey warned jurors that closing arguments would take a full day because this trial is as he put it, “more complicated than a typical” criminal case. The three former Ron Paul staffers are accused of conspiracy by allegedly using a third party to disguise payments to a former state senator in exchange for his endorsement.

WIKICOMMONS / GAGE SKIDMORE

Kent Sorenson completed his testimony on behalf of the prosecution Monday in the trial of three staffers from former Congressman Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. The staffers are accused of using a third party to disguise payments to Sorenson in exchange for his endorsement of Paul.

Gage Skidmore

Ron Paul testified today in the federal trial of three former staffers from his 2012 presidential campaign. The trio is accused of using a third party to disguise payments made to former Iowa State Sen. Kent Sorenson in exchange for his endorsement of Paul.   

Though at times he had trouble hearing, the former Texas congressman appeared at ease on the stand, making several quips which got smiles and occasional laughs from the jury. A joke about former Minnesota governor and professional wrestler Jesse Ventura was  particularly well received.

Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden

The conspiracy trial of three senior staffers from Ron Paul's 2012 Presidential Campaign had its first full day of testimony on Wednesday.  Campaign Chair Jesse Benton, Campaign Manager John Tate, and Deputy Campaign Manager Demitiri Kesari are accused of using a third party to disguise payments made to former Iowa State Sen. Kent Sorenson in exchange for his endorsement of Ron Paul.

IOWA PUBLIC RADIO / SARAH BODEN

Three senior staffers from Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign will stand trial at the federal district court in Des Moines Tuesday. The charges stem from $73,000 in alleged under-the-table payments to former Iowa State Senator Kent Sorenson for his endorsement of Paul.

This is the second trial for the trio.

Flickr / Michael Coghlan

In February, only 61 percent of those who took the Iowa State Bar Examination passed.  That's the lowest pass rate in more than a decade.

Taking the bar is required of all who wish to practice law in Iowa. February's 69 test takers came from more than two dozen law schools. 

Drake Law School Dean Ben Ullem says to better prepare its students for the bar exam, the school has altered the structure of courses.

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.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland had their much anticipated breakfast meeting Tuesday morning in the Senate Dining Room. The Iowa Republican describes the conversation as “very pleasant," though he still won’t hold confirmation hearings for Garland.

Iowa Public Radio / Amy Mayer

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland are meeting for breakfast soon. But Grassley says the meeting won’t change his mind about not holding confirmation hearings for Garland.

The Iowa Republican heads the Senate Judiciary Committee. Grassley says he spoke with Garland over the phone yesterday, though the two still have to set a date for their breakfast.

Flickr / Jeff Gitchel

Iowa’s Secretary of State Paul Pate says the Iowa Supreme Court should not be determining who can and cannot vote. 

Iowa's constitution says people convicted of infamous crimes are forever prohibited from voting, though some with felony convictions have successfully petitioned to have their rights restored. The state's high court is currently considering if "infamous crimes" means all felonies.

Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday on whether it violates the state’s constitution to permanently ban people with felony convictions from voting. 

The constitution states anyone who commits an “infamous crime,” forever loses the right to vote, though the text offers little context as to what makes a crime "infamous."

W. Ward Reynoldson, the former Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, has died. He was 95 years old.

Reynoldson sat on the state’s high court for 16 years, from 1971 to 1987. For nine of these years, Reynoldson served as chief justice. 

"The Iowa court family is saddened by the passing of former Chief Justice Ward Reynoldson," says current Chief Justice Mark Cady in an emailed statement. "He always projected the highest standards in everything he did."

The Iowa Supreme Court says a man found guilty of attempted murder and robbery won’t get a new trial, even though inaccurate reporting on a local news website was possibly seen by members of the jury. The case required justices to consider how its harder for jurors to avoid information that may prejudice them during a trial in the age of social media. 

Theodore Gathercole was found guilty in 2014. At the trial, jurors were frequently told to ignore print and broadcast accounts of the case. 

John Pemble/IPR file photo

The Iowa Supreme Court has closed a potential loophole that would have made it significantly easier for government officials to deliberate in private. In a four-to-three ruling, the high court says that government officials can’t skirt Iowa’s open meetings law by deliberating public policy through an agent.

Flickr / Steven Brewer

The Iowa Supreme Court is expected this morning to release a decision that could severely weaken Iowa’s open meetings law. The justices must decide if sending messages through an employee, the Warren County Board of Supervisors were still holding a "meeting," as defined under Iowa code.  

What happened?

In March 2014, the Warren County Board of Supervisors laid off 12 county employees.

Flickr / Ken Lund

Friday morning, the Iowa Supreme Court is expected to release a decision that could dramatically weaken Iowa’s open meeting’s law.

Two years ago the Warren County Board of Supervisors decided to lay off 12 county employees.

The three-member panel did not deliberate in person or through email. Rather they reached their unanimous decision by having the county administrator relay messages among the three board members. 

By communicating this way, the board supervisors hoped to skirt the state’s open meeting’s law.

A group of 360 legal scholars from across the country says Iowa’s U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and other Senate Republicans are exceeding their constitutional authority by refusing to agree to Supreme Court confirmation hearings. A letter from the scholars was organized by a liberal-leaning legal advocacy group, called the Alliance for Justice. 

Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he will not consider any Obama nominee, regardless of his or her qualifications. 

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