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Civic Skinny

Jan 19, 2012
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Too much good stuff to fit in a headline!

Lots of good stuff. Well, lots of stuff. You can determine if it’s good. The sky is falling in Iowa City. Academic freedom is in peril. And, even worse, the law school might have to hire a Republican. And a conservative one, at that! You can imagine how the ground is shaking.

The background: A couple of weeks ago Skinny reported that a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a jury should be given the issue as to whether discriminatory politics colored former Dean Carolyn Jones’s decision not to offer a faculty post to Teresa Wagner, a known Republican. Wagner had fine credentials and her lawsuit against Jones claims she was originally favored for the post until some members of the faculty — which at the time had one registered Republican among its 50 members — found out she was a pro-life activist. Suddenly, there was no job offer. Jones’ defense: The faculty made me do it; I’m just a powerless dean. The ruling was not well-received in the kingdom of Iowa City. So last week, Attorney General Tom Miller filed a petition asking that the entire court — it has 11 judges — hear the case or that, at least, the three judges rehear it.

The decision “raises questions of exceptional importance,” Miller and Assistant AG George Carroll say in their appeal on behalf of Jones. “It marks a radical shift away from the judicial system’s historical reluctance to second-guess the hiring decisions at colleges and universities.” In fact, what it does is say anti-discrimination law is important, and a jury should decide whether the anti-discrimination aspects or the academic-freedom aspects should prevail.

The 8th Circuit probably will act within weeks. And, though of course this is not relevant, nine of the 11 judges on the court were appointed by Republican presidents. One of the nine is Steve Colloton, who lives in Des Moines and grew up in Iowa City. [He was a clerk for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist and once worked for Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, now the president of Baylor University and a known Republican. Somehow the Iowa faculty allowed Colloton to serve as adjunct lecturer at the law school in 2000.]

The attorney general — who often wants to settle cases and stay out of court — seems particularly aggressive in the case. Perhaps it’s because his longtime associate and good friend, Solicitor General Mark Schantz, is a former general counsel of the university, a former member of the law school faculty and a current adjunct professor there who lives in Iowa City, has an office at the law school and a university email address. [Schantz is not the suspected Republican at the law school.] The AG’s office has stepped aside on lesser possible conflicts than that in the past.

At any rate, one lawyer who is fascinated by the case is willing to bet it never gets to a jury if the 8th Circuit rules in Wagner’s favor. The university will make a handsome settlement with Wagner, this person predicts, because it doesn’t want its law school profs on the stand being questioned about their jobs, their politics, their knowledge of the discrimination laws, or the fact that they run the school and the dean is just a high-paid figurehead. (As dean, Jones made about $300,000 a year, plus another $100,000 or so in benefits.) Another reason for a likely settlement: If Wagner wins at trial, the federal trial judge could order the university to hire her, a legal concept called “instatement” that is a possible remedy for discrimination.

In passing, the Attorney General’s brief seems to concede what legislators have long suspected — that power to run the universities sits largely with the workers, not the bosses or the Board of Regents. If the decision is allowed to stand, Miller wrote, “It is no exaggeration to conclude that university presidents, college deans, and faculty chairs with arguably nominal authority to make hiring decisions, such as Dean Jones, will be hauled into federal court...to explain the vagaries of the faculty lounge to juries across this Circuit.”

The key words: “No exaggeration” and “arguably nominal authority.”

Footnote: Dean Jones is not to be confused with Dean Jones, the American actor best known for his roles in several Walt Disney movies including “The Love Bug,” “Monkeys, Go Home!” and “The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit.” ...

“We believe that only citizens bearing proper photo ID should be allowed to vote, and that proof of citizenship should be required for absentee voting.”

So says the platform of the Republican Party of Iowa.

Yet Skinny’s Republican friends report they were not asked for any ID when they showed up to vote at their caucuses the other day, though one Republican tells Cityview everyone at her caucus was ID-ed. But why wasn’t everyone elsewhere? “Perhaps because there are no poor blacks or Hispanics in the party,” says one cynical Democrat who believes the whole voter-ID push is an effort to make it harder for poor Democrats to vote.

Wednesday morning, the TV folks were saying Mitt Romney was the first non-incumbent to “sweep” — the word two anchors used — the elections in both Iowa and New Hampshire. But did Romney win in Iowa? There is that little matter of the allegedly bad vote count in Appanoose County. But everyone seems to be ignoring that.

There were probably lots of inadvertent mistakes in the vote count, says one guy who has spent much of his life dealing with elections. That’s the way it goes with 120,000 slips of paper that you scribble a name on. But, he goes on, it’s in nobody’s interest to have the outcome changed. The media, with the big newspaper headlines and the splashy TV graphics, don’t want to have to come out in a couple of weeks and say, “Oh, never mind.” The party doesn’t want to have to look like it made a mistake. And the candidates have moved on. So look for the party this week to certify Mitt Romney as the winner in an eight-vote sweep. Even though that probably wasn’t the result. ...

Things are a little tense between County Attorney John Sarcone and the Board of Supervisors, Skinny hears. The board is asking department heads for an across-the-board budget cut of 3 percent or so, and Sarcone thinks his office should be exempt. The supervisors don’t think so. It could get dicier. Sarcone and other department heads will soon have their salaries reviewed by the county’s compensation board, and they may be in for disappointment there, too, Skinny hears.

Meantime, look for Republican supervisor E.J. Giovannetti to retire when his term expires at the end of the year. Giovannetti has served tirelessly and ably in public life for nearly 40 years — starting on the Urbandale Planning and Zoning Commission, then as mayor of Urbandale and, since 2002, as supervisor from the western suburbs and member of all kinds of civic boards. The redistricting throws him into the same district as fell Republican Bob Brownell. But Giovannetti, a lawyer, is likely to end up serving on some boards and commissions, says one county watcher. “He likes to be involved,” this person notes. ...

If, as he says, Gov. Terry Branstad didn’t know that Chris Godfrey is gay, he’s probably the only person on Capitol Hill who didn’t know it. Godfrey, Iowa’s workers’ comp commissioner, is suing the state for $1 million for defamation and harassment and other stuff. When he refused the Governor’s request to step down as commissioner — his term runs to 2015 — the Governor cut his pay by nearly $36,000 a year. Godfrey’s lawyer is big-time Democrat Roxanne Conlin, who lost to Branstad in the 1982 gubernatorial election, which makes things even more interesting.

By most accounts, Godfrey has been a very good commissioner, running the office efficiently and effectively. But he is a Democrat, and he is gay, two things that don’t sit well with some powerful Republicans. His gayness is not exactly a secret. It’s been in the papers, including this one in July of last year. [“None of the other carry-over department heads — the folks who run the lottery, the insurance department, IPERS and a few others — were called in and asked to pack up,” Skinny noted. “None of the others had their pay cut because they had lost the ‘faith and confidence’ of Branstad, in the words of Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht. None of the others is openly gay.”] And it was the subject of a whispering campaign during his 2009 confirmation hearings in the Iowa Senate, which confirmed him on a 49-0 vote. Now-lieutenant-governor Kim Reynolds was a senator then, and she voted for the confirmation.

Meantime, the governor announced last week that he’d be represented in Godfrey’s lawsuit by George LaMarca — at $325 an hour — and the governor’s office released a statement from LaMarca saying the governor had acted “well within the law” in cutting Godfrey’s salary. All that might have been a bit premature, however. The governor is normally represented by Attorney General Miller, and Branstad can’t hire an outside lawyer without first seeking approval of the Executive Council. The agenda for this week’s Executive Council — it met on Tuesday — included a letter from Deputy Attorney General Julie Pottorff requesting that Branstad be allowed to hire LaMarca. “In view of the personal nature of the allegations made against the Governor and his strong preference to proceed with outside counsel, we have agreed to” the appointment, the letter says.

But the statement from LaMarca seems to have been at least six days premature.
The Governor’s office has said Godfrey doesn’t keep workers’ comp costs down, which makes the choice of LaMarca — a registered Democrat — all the more interesting. He’s primarily a plaintiff’s lawyer — with a big practice before the workers’ comp board. His aim doesn’t appear to be to keep the state’s costs down. “Unfortunately, many injured workers do not receive the workers’ compensation benefits to which they are entitled,” says the website of LaMarca & Landry. “In cases like these, the assistance of a skilled Des Moines workers’ compensation lawyer is sometimes needed to get results.”

At several hundred dollars an hour. The $325-an-hour LaMarca is charging the state is “a significant discount from [his] standard hourly rates,” Pottorff’s letter to the Executive Council states.

Chris Godfrey earns about $36.50 an hour. CV



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