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Crime, Justice and Public Safety

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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.

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The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa Corn Growers Association are offering to pay the legal costs in a lawsuit that names three northwest Iowa counties.  Des Moines Water Works alleges that farm runoff from drainage districts in Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac Counties has caused exceedingly high nitrate levels in the city's water supply. 

Craig Hill is president of the Farm Bureau. He says the counties have been unfairly singled out in the Water Works lawsuit.

Flickr / Leonieke Aalders

The Iowa State Bar Association is recommending that voters retain all 63 Iowa judges and the three state supreme court justices who are facing judicial retention elections this November. The ISBA is basing this recommendation on the 2016 Judicial Performance Review survey. 

JOHN PEMBLE/IPR FILE

The Iowa Attorney General Office argued Friday at the state Supreme Court that justices should overturn a ruling from six years ago. 

In Iowa, when someone is arrested, law enforcement have 45 days to press charges. Back in December 2010, the court ruled six-to-one in State v. Wing, that when a person reasonably believes they are under arrest, law enforcement must still adhere to the 45-day deadline. That's even if an individual isn't actually under arrest. 

JOHN PEMBLE/IPR FILE

It was déjà vu at the Iowa Supreme Court, which held the first oral arguments of its 2016-17 term today. Justices heard a drunken-boating case for the second time as a result of a U.S Supreme Court ruling from June.

That federal ruling found that law enforcement can arrest drivers who don't submit to breathalyzer tests, but also determined blood tests to be unconstitutional. The Iowa case concerns breath-sobriety testing and drunken boating.

JOHN PEMBLE/IPR FILE

The Iowa Supreme Court has released its first opinions of the 2016-17 term. Both deal with attorney discipline. 

Michael Reilly is now again able to practice law in Iowa. Reilly lost his license 10 years ago for depositing client funds into his personal bank account to supplement a gambling addiction.

Flickr / TheUPSStoreHuntingtonBeach

At least 15 public libraries in Iowa have been targeted by a toner pirate scam this year. That’s according to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against three Orange County, California-based businesses Thursday.

The supposed scam came to light thanks to Cate St. Clair, an attorney by training and library director by trade. When Robey Memorial Library in Waukon received a mysterious bill for about $400 for toner, St. Clair called the number printed on the invoice.

Dakota Access LLC

A pipeline company says a group of landowners challenging its use of eminent domain was too late in filing a motion asking the Polk County District County to temporarily stop pipeline construction. Therefore, Dakota Access LLC says the landowners’ motion should be tossed.

Dakota Access

A group of landowners will ask the District Court in Polk County this afternoon to stop the Dakota Access pipeline from beginning construction on their properties. They aim to hold off the condemnation of their lands until they have their day in court to challenge the company’s use of eminent domain.

John 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.

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