Sunday, November 23, 2014


Civic Skinny

Catching up: Fair’s sidewalk evangelist appeals. Tirrells file for bankruptcy. Gortz Haus update.

8/27/2014

Jason Powell, who was told by Iowa State Fair officials and then by Federal Judge Robert Pratt that his sidewalk preaching interfered with traffic, last week appealed Pratt’s ruling to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Powell, a “professing Christian who is compelled to share his faith with others in public,” had been threatened with arrest when he went to share his views on the busy corner of East 30th and Grand, outside the gate to the Fair but on Fair property. He sought injunctions in court to allow him to return, but Pratt — a strong defender of the First Amendment — said protestors have rights but they can’t disrupt the flow of traffic.

Pratt criticized the way Fair officials handled the issue and said they instead should have suggested he move to a less-congested corner. But he refused to grant the injunction Powell sought. …

Camilla Taylor, of Lambda Legal, the lawyer who helped lead the way in the Varnum gay-marriage case, has filed an amici brief in the case where the couple who own the Gortz Haus Gallery and event space refused to rent it to a gay couple who wanted to get married there. The two men filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, and Betty Ann and Richard Odgaard then sued the Commission and its members “in an attempt to preempt any agency investigation, findings, and enforcement,” according to the latest filing. The Odgaards are Mennonites who do not approve of gay marriage.

The district court dismissed the lawsuit, saying the Odgaards have to go to the commission before they go to court. That’s the decision that is being appealed. It will be closely watched because of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving the religious rights of people who own closely held companies, “opinions that may well impact the substantive legal contentions in” the Odgaard case, the lower court noted. Lambda takes pains to distinguish the Gortz Haus case. No date has been set for the Supreme Court hearing. …

Des Moines Finest

For those people who don’t read this column online: Early last week, Marty Tirrell, the sports-talker and serial defendant, and his wife filed for bankruptcy protection, which was in the online column but came too late for the printed version. The Tirrells claimed assets of between zero and $50,000 and liabilities of $500,000 to $1 million. …

Last week’s print column said Ned Chiodo lost the primary for the Iowa Senate by “a few thousand votes.” In fact, he lost to Tony Bisignano by 441 votes out of 3,874 cast. Bisignano beat Nathan Blake by 18 votes. …

Also, Cityview reported last week that independent Jim Bollard had entered the race against Bisignano and that Dennis Parker was out as head of the Polk County Conservation Board. That must be true — The Des Moines Register reported it two days later. CV

Comment: Bubu Palo

His career as a basketball player at Iowa State was ruined.

His attempt to transfer and play for other colleges was stymied.

His life was turned upside down after late-night sex with a friend, righted when rape charges were dropped, shattered again when ISU continued its own charges, righted when an administrative law judge said those charges were unfounded, upended once more when the ISU president and the Board of Regents overruled that judge.

Now, a district judge has overruled the president and the Regents.

Bubu Palo has been cleared for the third time.

Isn’t it about time the university leaves him alone?

Isn’t it about time the university lets him get on with his life?

Last Thursday, Story County District Judge Steven Oeth ruled that the former Iowa State University basketball star didn’t violate the university’s student conduct code on May 18, 2012, when he slept with Hunter Elizabeth Breshears, a friend from high school days with whom he occasionally hooked up.

She had said he raped her.

In September of 2012, the county attorney brought sexual-abuse charges and the university accused Palo of violating the code of student conduct.

He was kicked off the basketball team.

But it turned out a key piece of evidence — a torn blouse — had been tampered with when it was in the possession of Breshears or her mother. There were other issues of credibility, too. So in January of 2013, the county attorney dropped the charges.

And Palo — a first team Academic All Big 12 player — was put back on the team.

He had been cleared.

Then, in May of 2013, administrative law judge John Priester, after 10 hours of hearings and testimony from everyone involved, said the complaint filed by the university was not founded. “There shall be no sanction imposed against Mr. Palo for the complaint alleging sexual misconduct,” he wrote in a 17-page opinion that covered the testimony, the law, the university rules and graphic details from the evening of May 18.

(“While there was no verbal consent, I believe that she did not convey a lack of consent to Mr. Palo. From the texts earlier that evening, coupled with their prior casual encounters, from an objective review of the situation this was just another ‘hook up.’ ”)

He had been cleared a second time.

In June, the university then appealed to itself (university “justice” is somewhere between a farce and a tragedy) and Iowa State President Steve Leath reviewed the ruling. On Aug. 30, without taking additional testimony, Leath sided with himself and overruled the administrative law judge. Leath waited to announce his ruling until five days after the deadline for Palo to transfer to another school for his final year of eligibility.

Palo was again kicked off the team. Other sanctions also were imposed.

Palo appealed to the Board of Regents, which upheld Leath on Dec. 5, 2013. (“At first blush, the decision appears to simply be a ‘rubber stamp’ of President Leath’s decision, even though it took three months to render,” a district judge later ruled.)

Matt Boles, the lawyer for Palo, then asked Story County District Court to stay the sanctions imposed by Leath and the Regents. The court agreed, and issued a temporary stay on Jan. 16 of this year.

Palo was put back on the team. Athletic Director Jamie Pollard assailed the ruling.

Coincidentally — of course — Palo never played another minute.

Palo appealed the decision by Leath and the Regents — calling it irrational, illogical and unjustifiable — and it was that appeal that was granted by Judge Oeth last week.

So what next?

Palo graduated from Iowa State in May with a degree in finance — with a grade point well above 3.0 — and hopes to go to graduate school. The NCAA would have to approve a request from a university to grant the year of eligibility, and a university would have to accept him, of course. He had said he was going to Colorado State to play for former ISU coach Larry Eustachy, but the Colorado State administrators nixed that, according to his lawyer. The University of California at Berkeley also blocked him because of the ISU charges against him.

Perhaps he has a better shot now.

Steve Leath has been overruled, and he should be ashamed. So should Jamie Pollard and, especially, the Board of Regents with their rubber stamp. Asked over the weekend if ISU planned to appeal, spokesman John McCarroll said “no decision has been made.”

They should drop it.

For Palo, the lawsuits and appeals were “about getting his good name back,” Boles, his lawyer, says. “The truth lies on Bubu’s side. He was candid about everything, including what some might consider embarrassing details. The facts were the facts. He has never shied away from the facts of his actions on that night.”

Palo now has been cleared three times. Isn’t that enough?

• • •

A few months ago, I filed an application asking the Supreme Court to unseal three documents from the Palo case resting in the files of the high court — the ruling by the administrative law judge and the rulings by Leath and the Board of Regents. The Supreme Court said that was a matter not for it but for the district court.

Judge Oeth’s decision last week attaches the administrative law judge’s ruling — which makes it public for the first time. A hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 5 in Story County on my motion to the district court to allow me to proceed with my requests to unseal the other two rulings. The Board of Regents, represented by the Attorney General’s office, filed a resistance to my motion. Palo’s lawyers have said they will not oppose my request. CV

— Michael Gartner

Upper Iowa