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Civic Skinny

July 5, 2012
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Hoiberg’s contract, Rubashkin’s brief, Highfill’s brawl

Justices of the United States Supreme Court went home last week without giving any thought to Sholom Rubashkin. So Rubashkin stays put in federal prison in Otisville, N.Y.

No one is saying he isn’t guilty of the 86 financial crimes he was convicted of following the May 2008 federal raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant he ran in Postville, a massive raid that led to the arrest of 389 undocumented workers. After he was convicted of the financial charges — including bank fraud and money laundering to make Agriprocessors seem something that it wasn’t — the government withdrew the 72 immigration charges against him.

The government urged Federal District Court Judge Linda Reade to sentence Rubashkin to 25 years in prison, a recommendation that most authorities thought was particularly harsh and far out-of-line for a 51-year-old, first-time, nonviolent offender who was not a thug. Reade listened — and then sentenced Rubashkin to an astonishing 27 years. The sentence was upheld by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, Mo.

After the trial, Rubashkin’s lawyers discovered that Reade was more than just a disinterested judge. Freedom of Information requests produced documents that showed she had worked closely with federal agents and prosecutors before the raid. The documents “suggested coordination between the judge and the prosecution not just on logistical matters, but on strategy and other substance,” according to a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the action seeking review by the Supreme Court.

That’s just not any brief. It is signed by 86 former Attorneys General of the United States, senior Department of Justice officials, United States Attorneys and federal judges. Many served under President George W. Bush, who appointed Reade to the bench in 2002. They say the facts “strongly suggest” justice was subverted in the case.

All that is history.

The latest, though, is an article published last month in the National Law Journal by Robert Steinbuch, a legal-ethics professor at the University of Arkansas, and Brett Tolman, a former U.S. Attorney in Utah. They call the details of the case “tragic and frightening: prosecutorial overcharging, a federal judge who inappropriately communicated in secret with government agents and attorneys, a prosecution that articulated a special bail rule only for Jews, a case that persisted after all of the initial claims were dismissed, and a parallel state case that typifies improper piling on motivated by politics.”

None of this makes Reade look particularly good. It’s especially noticed when you are criticized by former attorneys general Ed Meese and Dick Thornburgh, and onetime Solicitor General (among other things) Ken Starr, and former FBI directors William Sessions and Louis Freeh, among others. Those others, incidentally, include Jim Reynolds, who was U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Iowa from 1977 to 1982.

These folks and others are supporting the petition by Rubashkin’s lawyers asking the Supreme Court to review the decision. The High Court gets about 8,000 such petitions a year and usually grants 80 or so. But “with the names they have” in support, Rubashkin’s lawyers probably have a better chance than most petitioners, says one guy who has been following the case closely.

At any rate, now that the Justices have closed up shop for the summer, we won’t know till September. Meantime, Rubashkin will spend another summer in the Catskills, where he wrote in a letter to his children this year, “the sights of all that is unholy assail one’s eyes...the ears ache as they come under the nonstop barrage of the loud vulgar talk peppered by screams and shouts of nothingness, amplified and echoing off the high cement brickwalls.” ...

How could Jake Highfill have run a widely noted — and successful — campaign to upset legislator Eric Helland without anyone noticing a lawsuit against Highfill by his University of Iowa roommate and onetime close buddy? Reporters, party officials and opponents regularly check court dockets to vet their candidates or, in the case of opponents, get the dirt on them.

Yet no one seemed to notice until the other day that the 22-year-old Highfill, now the Republican legislative candidate from Johnston, is the defendant in a pretty nasty lawsuit that was filed months before he beat two-term incumbent and Majority Whip Helland in a close primary last month.

The suit was filed Oct. 13, 2011, in Polk County District Court. It claims that on the evening of Oct. 16, 2010, Highfill had a shotgun at a party at the place where he and his friend since high school, Carson Kness, shared a house in Iowa City. According to the suit, Kness told him to put the shotgun away. An argument ensued, the suit says, and Highfill then hit Kness in the face with a glass bottle, causing a laceration that required 39 stitches to close and that left a scar 9 centimeters long on his cheek.

Kness is alleging assault and battery, negligence and “intentional action causing injury,” according to court papers, and is seeking a judgment to cover past and future medical expenses, past and future physical and mental pain and suffering, permanent disfigurement and lost wages. Highfill is pleading self-defense.

The court papers sat unnoticed for eight months until Ashlee Kieler of the online community-news service Patch wrote about it Friday. The fact that the suit went unnoticed is especially odd in that the race was unusual — few incumbents face serious primary challenges — and unpleasant. Highfill upset Helland by 50 votes after filing an ethics complaint claiming that the incumbent offered him a job if he’d get out of the race. The complaint was dismissed by the House Ethics Committee on a 4-2 vote.

Highfill now will face Democrat Kelsey Clark of Grimes in November. The district is heavily Republican. If he wins, he might have to miss a few opening days of the new session. Trial is set for January. ...

Why would Glen Oaks kick out the Principal Charity Classic? It’s privately owned, it appears to be doing OK after years of struggle, and its members are tired of folks trampling all over their playground, appears to be the consensus. Why would Des Moines Golf and Country say “no,” too? It doesn’t need the money.

According to tax returns for the year ended Oct. 31, 2010, the club had a profit of $561,262, though clubs don’t use the word profit. It had revenue of $7,803,679 and expenses of $7,242,417. It also had retained earnings on its balance sheet of $8.5 million.
Wakonda Club, which also is being looked at as a potential host of the tournament, could use the $300,000 or so that the tournament antes up. In the year ended Oct. 31, 2011, the club on Fleur Drive had revenue of $5,415,895 and a loss of $247,364, which came on top of a year-earlier loss of $320,045. And it has no retained earnings on its balance sheet, according to its tax return. Hyperion, which might also be in play, had a loss of $136,987 in the latest year, the tax returns show.

Because it’s private, Glen Oaks does not have to disclose its tax returns.

Jim Cutter, the general manager of Des Moines Golf, earned $226,135 in the latest year for which returns are available. David Schneider, the general manager of Wakonda, earned $159,434 and also got a $7,500 bonus. No one at Hyperion made more than $100,000, the tax returns indicate. ...

Iowa State University last week released Fred Hoiberg’s 16-page “contract” to coach basketball at the school through April 30, 2020. It pays him $1.2 million in the coming season, and he gets raises of $100,000 each year after that. He gets a $50,000 bonus each time the team gets to the NCAA tournament — and $25,000 for each victory in the tournament — and there are other bonuses for conference championships and the like. He also gets a car and membership in the Ames Country Club.

Iowa State can fire him if it turns out he is a mass murderer or if his behavior “shows a lack of loyalty to, and contempt for, the University and its mission or goals.” Or a few other equally unlikely circumstances. But he can’t be fired for coaching decisions, team performance, public unhappiness with the win-loss record, or “other general displeasure at the direction or success of the basketball program.” But if the school fires him without cause, he gets a lump sum payment of 50 percent of all money due him until the termination of the contract.

If Hoiberg quits to become a head coach at an NCAA Division I school or head coach or general manager of an NBA team, he gets everything he earned up to that date and he agrees to pay the university $500,000. He can leave without penalty if the university toughens the admission or eligibility standards for athletes. And he can resign with no penalty if he wants to do something other than be a head coach — run for Governor, teach first-graders or just count his money. ...

Forbes Magazine last week said Des Moines is the fourth best city in the nation for business. It was the third year in a row that Des Moines was in the top five. In December, The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch said Des Moines was the third best city for business, and again it was the third year in a row Des Moines was in the top five. Earlier this year, Policom ranked greater Des Moines as the area with the second best economic strength in the nation — second only to Washington, D.C.

If all of this is true, central Iowans must be wondering why politicians are dead set on changing the state’s tax structure, especially in reducing the property tax on commercial operations.

Why not leave well-enough alone? ...

A quote:

“I want to do everything I think of and I don’t really let anything bind me. At work I have a line that I don’t cross because I always want to be ethical, honest, and lead in a very precise way. When not on duty I like to blur that line. I like to take chances, do whatever my heart desires, and regret nothing.”

Army captain John Hintz might be having second thoughts about that “regret nothing” thing. CV

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