Civic Skinny

June 16, 2011 |

Brandstad? Seperation? The Guv might reconsider his education cuts.

Greed! Spite! Armed Guards! And Adultery (alleged)!

Also: Van Orsdel, Rastetter and Bob Ray’s house


Few things are as nasty — and juicy — as a suit between lawyers. To wit: Bill Hanigan, once a partner in the Brown Winick law firm and now with the Davis firm, last week sued his old firm and former partner, Christopher Sackett, for drumming him out of the firm in October of 2009. Hanigan was hired by Brown Winick in 1998, later became a partner and, in 2005, a member of the firm’s management committee. He was, the lawsuit says, “the second highest income producer at Brown Winick from 2005 through 2009.” The highest, presumably, was Doug Gross.

But there was trouble ahead.

In October 2009, Sackett “falsely accused Bill Hanigan both before and during a Member’s meeting of sending an ‘anonymous letter’ to Sackett’s wife which allegedly accused Sackett of having an affair with another Member of the Firm,” according to the suit, which was filed in district court in Polk County

And if that wasn’t enough, the suit says that at a firm meeting Sackett “claimed that Bill Hanigan had committed malpractice and ethical violations, claimed that Bill Hanigan was prejudiced against women, [and] claimed that some attorneys in his Renewable Fuels practice group said he should not be allowed to talk to clients.”

The firm then asked him to resign. He refused, and then his fellow partners expelled him — “an act which defamed him and damaged him in his profession,” the suit says. And if that weren’t bad enough:

“ Brown Winick further defamed Bill Hanigan by hiring an armed security officer to attend the Firm meeting where the vote was conducted to terminate his Membership, and Brown Winick had the security officer remain at the Firm for two full days after Bill was required to vacate his office, implying by that action that Bill Hanigan was a threat to the safety of lawyers, staff and clients of the Firm.”

Then they campaigned to keep his clients, the suit says. “The actions of the Defendants have been taken out of personal jealousy, greed, malice, spite and ill will toward Bill Hanigan and also taken for their personal gain at his expense,” the suit alleges. He is seeking damages on 10 counts, including libel and slander and conspiracy and breach of good faith and interference with prospective business advantage, among other things.

But what about that alleged letter to Sackett’s wife? “Bill Hanigan did not send the alleged letter and knew nothing about a letter being sent or received,” the suit says.

At week’s end, Sackett and Brown Winick had not yet filed a response. Stay tuned. ...

While lawyers burn, legislators fiddle. Republicans in the House the other day passed yet another resolution “respectfully requesting” that the Board of Regents reverse itself and not name a policy institute at Iowa State University after Sen. Tom Harkin, who is donating his vast and valuable trove of papers to the school. The Republicans think a person should retire or die — they mention both, but don’t say which they prefer for Harkin — before anything should be named for him. They think “no public building or institution should be named after a state or federal elected official” until that official is gone from public life. Why? Because “this honor could provide an unfair political advantage to an active political leader who could use the honor as part of future political campaigns....”

What does that mean for the new federal courthouse that will go up in Cedar Rapids? It’s an open secret there and in the Iowa legislature and in Washington that that courthouse will be named for Sen. Chuck Grassley, who still is in office. It’s a good bet that the Republicans in the Iowa House will have changed their mind by then.

Republicans tell Skinny that the resolution — like an earlier letter from GOP legislators to the Regents — was spearheaded by Bruce Rastetter, Gov. Terry Branstad’s money man and recent appointee to the Board of Regents whom Branstad is trying to maneuver into the presidency of the board. No one seems to have noticed that the latest resolution contains a glancing blow to Rastetter himself. It turns out there is a Bruce Rastetter Chair in Agricultural Economics at Iowa State University, which, by one Democratic politician’s reading, runs counter to the message in the latest GOP resolution. And he has a point. While Rastetter is not an elected official, he is without question “an active political leader” — anyone in the Governor’s office or the Legislature would be hard-pressed to deny that — and if a policy center can be interpreted as a “building or institution” (in fact, it is neither) then a chair can be as well, the reasoning goes. If Harkin, who is 71, can use the honor to an “unfair political part of future political campaigns,” then so, too, can Rastetter, who turned 55 this week and shows no sign of bowing out of politics. (Indeed, he was one of the handful of Iowa businessmen — no women were on the trip — who flew to New Jersey the other day to try to convince New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run for the Republican nomination for president.)

But fund-raising for the Harkin Institute is continuing apace — money is coming from Democrats and Republicans — and nothing will come of the GOP sniping. ...

Clever segue here.

Also on the trip to New Jersey was Gary Kirke. Speaking of Gary Kirke, his former partner — and now bitter enemy — Bill Van Orsdel is telling people he’d like to sell his houses (plural) in Des Moines, though Skinny can’t find any real-estate listing. Van Orsdel owns a compound of half-a-dozen or so structures around Lincoln Place Drive South of Grand. All told, they have an assessed value of $4,037,600. The house at 3407 Lincoln Place Drive is assessed at $977,100, the single highest assessment of a house in Des Moines.

A home owned by Dan Stanbrough at 10 35th St. — a home once known as the Brenton Mansion — is second, at $935,070. Two Krantz homes, Susie Glazer Burt’s house, Nixon Lauridsen’s big house on Casady Drive, James and Roxanne Conlin’s place in Southern Hills and Max Holmes’ house are among the 15 highest-assessed houses in the city limits. Rounding out the top 15: Bob and Billie Ray’s secluded house at 114 S.W. 51st St., which is assessed at $533,290.

The fight between Van Orsdel and Kirke appears to be about as bitter as a business fight can be. Kirke and three other partners sued Van Orsdel for allegedly failing to pay his share of some big-money commitments on West Glen, that West Des Moines complex of residences and shops and businesses that didn’t turn out to be quite as good a deal as they all had hoped.

One indication of the depth of hard feelings: When a Van Orsdel married one of the daughters of the Giudicessi restaurant family the other day, there wasn’t a Kirke to be seen at the big event, according to two guests who quickly called in to Skinny. But the Giudicessi brothers seem to be in their own family feud: the bride’s family was there, of course, but one guest said he saw no one from her uncle’s side of the family. …

Finally, this: A guy tells a guy who tells Skinny that he listens to lots of different radio talk shows on his computer. He caught a bit of Mike Huckabee’s comments recently and shared that “On Huckabee’s radio show yesterday, he was reporting on the flooding along the Missouri River. In the story he brought up the dire forecast for cities and towns along the Missouri, like Des Moines.” CV