Thursday, June 1, 2023

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Civic Skinny

They’re back! Marty Tirrell, Jackson Pollock, LaMarca & Landry — and a jaw-dropper!


Updates: But first, the news. It was just a couple of weeks ago, it seems, when we explained how Indianola sports broadcaster Marty Tirrell gets those tickets for big sports events that he then gives or sells to listeners and advertisers. He has a simple procedure: He stiffs the sellers. That led to two judgments against him, of $107,665 and $182,172, in Federal District Court in Chicago in recent weeks.

It turns out that’s apparently how he gets buses, too. Last week, CIT Charters of Ames went to Story County District Court and sued him for $4,559.34, saying it provided the buses but Tirrell didn’t provide the money. It says he chartered a 55-passenger bus to haul folks from Phil’s Bar in Clive to Ames for the Iowa-ISU football game on Sept. 14 — and still hasn’t paid the $1,000 bill. Then, the lawsuit says, he chartered a 47-passenger bus to take fans from West Des Moines to Green Bay for the Packers game against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 4. The $3,559.34 bill remains unpaid, the suit in small claims court says.

Now, the updates.

Costs in the Chris Godfrey case continue to mount. The Executive Council this week approved another $3,134.98 for LaMarca & Landry, the law firm getting up to $325 an hour to defend the state and the Governor in the defamation, extortion and discrimination lawsuit brought by Godfrey, the state’s director of Workers Compensation.

Gov. Terry Branstad tried to fire Godfrey, a highly regarded holdover appointee from the Democratic administrations who has a fixed term that runs till next year, and when Godfrey refused to go the governor chopped his salary to $73,500 a year from $112,000. This probably isn’t relevant, of course, but Godfrey is the only openly gay member of the Branstad administration. So far, the LaMarca lawyers have turned in bills for $480,912.68.

CNA - Stop HIV Iowa (June 1)CNA - Stop HIV Iowa (June 2)

Last week there was a hearing in the Iowa Supreme Court — apparently not covered by Des Moines media — though the major aspect of the case is still in Polk County District Court. Translation: Lots of billable hours ahead. …

When will the $150 million Jackson Pollock Mural return to the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City? Don’t hold your breath. Several years ago, some blockhead on the Board of Regents suggested it be sold with the proceeds used to provide scholarships — annually and forever — for 1,000 needy Iowa undergraduates. Or un-needy ones. But he was shouted down by art lovers and university folks, and among the arguments was that the mural — which many students did not know existed, and which was viewed annually by about half as many people as attend a Saturday football game — “makes an important contribution to the [University of Iowa] Museum’s role as a teaching resource for students and the university.”

Alas, it’s been close to six years now that students have managed to matriculate without that important teaching resource. The Mural was spirited out of town when the floods destroyed the university’s museum in 2008, and it hasn’t been back. It was stored in Chicago, then displayed in Davenport and Des Moines, and then sent to Los Angeles for a scrubbing (not an accepted term) and display.

It won’t return to Iowa City until a new museum is completed, university officials say, but no one has raised the money for that — the last estimate was about $75 million — and not a spade has been turned. “The Iowa Board of Regents has authorized the University to proceed in seeking a public/private facility partnership to create a new museum of art,” the university said in response to questions from Cityview. “At the board’s meeting this March, the University will seek approval for the qualifications it proposes to use in seeking a private development partner.”

Meantime, the Mural has been spruced up at no cost to the university. “The cost of the conservation (please note that it is not a ‘restoration’) of ‘Mural,’ one of the most significant works of American art, will run into the millions of dollars over the two years (July 2012-July 2014) it is at the Getty, but since the Getty is kindly and generously paying for this conservation, the insurance, etc., no one at the University of Iowa knows the total amount. The Getty will also fund a major exhibition in Los Angeles on Mural from March 2014 to June 2014, which is expected to bring several hundred thousand people to view this Iowa masterpiece.” That exhibition in Los Angeles opens this week.

Aside: Most people view it as a Pollock masterpiece, not an Iowa masterpiece.

The practiced eye will note real changes once the cleaned Mural returns to Iowa. Christopher Knight, the Los Angeles Times Art Critic, says, “The gestural dynamism known to have had such an impact almost 70 years ago…has returned in force. My jaw dropped.”

The painting will be at the Sioux City Art Center from this June until April of 2015, and all costs are being paid by Sioux Citians, the University says. After April 2015, “plans currently being worked on aim to include the painting as part of the significant international exhibition on American art, which will be funded entirely by the participating institutions and international cultural and educational foundations.”

Translation: It will be years before the painting is back in Iowa City. …

Remember Carolyn Jones? She’s the former dean of the University of Iowa Law School who famously testified in a discrimination trial that “I think that I am not a rubber stamp.” In fact, though, she indicated that she was a rubber stamp — that even though she was the dean it was the faculty who held all the power, including the power to hire.

She had been sued by Teresa Wagner, who alleged she was turned down for a job at the law school because she’s a conservative Republican. At the time, the law school had one registered Republican among its 50 faculty.

Jones’ response to the suit was, “Who, me?”

And that response worked. A federal jury ruled in her favor and against Wagner.

Jones has stepped down as dean, but she’s still on the faculty — and the rubber stamp issue is still around, now as a cat’s-paw issue. The case is back in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals — it’s been up and down — where Wagner is appealing the jury verdict and is seeking a new trial.

The other day, in a motion to supplement the record, she says the university wants it both ways, which is illegal. “After repeatedly arguing before the trial court and this Court of Appeals… that Dean Jones was not the hiring decision maker, but solely at the mercy of the vote of the full faculty, she now takes the position…that ‘of course’ and ‘absolutely’ she was the sole decision maker,” Wagner’s lawyers argued.

Jones lawyer: “…in this case Carolyn Jones was being challenged on her decision…”

Judge Beam: “So she wasn’t just the cat’s paw of Professor Bezanson?”

Jones lawyer: “Absolutely she was not.”

Taking contradictory positions at different stages of a lawsuit is not allowed, Wagner’s lawyers argued. That is tantamount to prosecutorial misconduct by the Iowa Attorney General’s office, the brief says.

In what one lawyer called “a very unusual move, to say the least,” the Circuit Court asked the Attorney General’s office to respond. Last week, it did. It said, repeatedly, that it has been consistent all along, that Jones was the decision maker. “Wagner has incorrectly attacked defense counsel with unfounded charges of misconduct…,” the brief concludes. That response was filed on Thursday of last week. On Friday, the court sided with the university.

The case has been around for five years. …

Wow. Marty Tirrell, a cat’s paw, the Green Bay Packers, LaMarca and Landry, Jackson Pollock, a dropped jaw and “gestural dynamism” all in one column. CV


Comment: A lesson in civics and civility

The Iowa Supreme Court on Tuesday heard one aspect of Chris Godfrey’s suit against Gov. Terry Branstad and others.

It was an unusual evening session, and it was a lesson in civics and civility.

Before the hearing, Guy Cook, the head of the Iowa Bar Association, explained how the courts work to the visitors who came to watch.

Then Roxanne Conlin gave her arguments for Godfrey, followed by George LaMarca for Branstad and the others. Conlin was given a few minutes for rebuttal.

The lawyers, both smart and well-prepared, were repeatedly questioned by the Justices — all seven justices asked questions — about the law, the facts, and some hypothetical situations. Afterward, Chief Justice Mark Cady invited everyone in the courtroom to a reception in the Justice Building.

The whole thing was illuminating, a great lesson in civics and a wonderful example of civility.

The session was streamed live, and now it’s available on the Supreme Court web site. Go to, and on that home page you’ll see “March 2014 Oral Argument Video Available Online.” That’s the case. Click it. It’s 52 minutes and 27 seconds long. It’s better than “Law and Order.” You’ll learn a lot — and you’ll come away impressed by the players and proud of the court. CV

— Michael Gartner

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