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Civic Skinny

Oops: Grassley’s judge pick for Iowa lives in South Dakota.


“Iowan Leonard Strand Nominated for Federal Judgeship,” said the headline on the press release issued the other day by the office of Sen. Chuck Grassley.

Well, not quite.

Leonard Strand, a U.S. magistrate in Sioux City and the man whom Grassley proposed and President Barack Obama (much to the dismay of Democrats) has nominated to be the new judge for the northern district of Iowa, lives in Dakota Dunes, S.D., a border tax haven for many people who otherwise would like to be Iowans. He has been a legal resident of South Dakota for the last three years, according to the county assessor.

But Strand will have to move to Iowa before he can be sworn in as a federal judge. And, indeed, real-estate listings say his five-bedroom, three-bath, 3,880-square-foot home in Dakota Dunes is currently on the market for $400,000. What’s more, he and his wife have found a place in Iowa they like, according to Grassley’s office.

For security reasons, judges’ biographies generally don’t say where they live, but it’s unusual for a person to be named to a federal judgeship in a state where he doesn’t live. It’s even more unusual to refer to a South Dakotan as an Iowan — that probably offends people in both states — but the Grassley press release called him an Iowan in the headline and noted that the Grassley-named screening committee “spent hundreds of hours carefully reviewing applications and interviewing each of the 39 Iowans who submitted applications.”

Dakota Dunes is home to many wealthy people who like the fact that South Dakota doesn’t have a state income tax. Among its residents: Eldon and Regina Roth, who founded Beef Products Inc. (famous for the dysphemistic “pink slime”) and who gave more than $100,000 to the re-election campaign of Gov. Terry Branstad in the last election cycle.

Cityview emailed Strand and asked when he moved to South Dakota, and why. The quick response came not from Strand but from Grassley’s office. It laid out details of the move and said he would soon be moving to his native Sioux City. It noted that he was raised in Sioux City, went to the University of Iowa and its law school and practiced law in Cedar Rapids for 22 years. But why did he move to South Dakota? “Logistical reasons.” They couldn’t find a suitable place in Iowa, and Dakota Dunes “worked for them in terms of price, availability and proximity to the courthouse.”

At any rate, for the moment, at least, Strand is a South Dakotan.

It’s unclear whether Grassley will seek a South Dakotan for the opening in the southern district of Iowa. …

The indictment of three persons connected to the 2012 presidential campaign of Ron Paul is more bad news for former state senator Kent Sorenson. It means he can’t go home for a while.

Sorenson, a Republican who has been convicted on two federal charges related to taking money from presidential political campaigns while he was an elected politician, faces up to 25 years in prison. But his sentencing has been delayed, presumably at the request of prosecutors who appear to be dangling a deal in return for his testimony in the Paul case.

That would be OK — staying out of prison is better than being in prison — except Sorenson allegedly got drunk and beat up his wife the other day, and Warren County authorities put a no-contact order on him. His wife — who said that she bested her husband in the fight — moved to have the order removed, but Federal Judge Robert Pratt learned of the charges and issued his own order.

“The conditions of release for pretrial supervision are modified to prohibit the defendant from residing at his primary family residence unless approved in writing by this Court and the U.S. Probation Office. Additionally, the defendant shall participate in a program of medical treatment as directed by the U.S. Probation Office,” wrote Pratt, who is the sentencing judge in the Sorenson case.

The first court appearance in the Paul indictments isn’t scheduled until Sept. 3, so unless Pratt modifies his order, Sorenson won’t be living at his Milo house for quite some time. The Rand case has been assigned to Chief Federal Judge John Jarvey.

Meantime, a jury trial in the wife-beating charge — “domestic abuse assault” — is set for Oct. 22 in Warren County district court. He has pleaded not guilty to the assault charge as well as two counts of “interference with official acts.” …

Jesse Benton, one of the three men charged in the new indictments, has hired a high-powered lawyer. He will be defended by Roscoe Howard Jr., the former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia who now is with the Washington firm of Barnes & Thornburg. …

A federal jury has ruled in favor of James Conlin in his four-year dispute with the city over whether he could put vinyl windows in a rental property he owns in historic Sherman Hill. The city was demanding that he use wood, though he contended vinyl was better in every way and looked the same. The difference was about $6,000. He spent more than $100,000 in legal fees with Doug Gross’ law firm, he told Cityview recently, saying it was the principle of the thing. He sought damages under the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution.

The jury awarded him $1 in damages — but he can recover legal fees. How much will depend on the judge. …

The decision by Kraig Paulsen to step down as Speaker of the Iowa House in January could set off a donnybrook in the Republican Party. The party controls the House, but there seem to be as many factions as there are members, so no one is predicting who the caucus will support. Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, who would seem to be the logical successor, has announced her candidacy, but she’s a lightning rod with fellow members, and it’s not at all clear she could get a majority.

Two names being mentioned: Pete Cownie of West Des Moines and Chip Baltimore of Boone.

If you’re a lawyer defending a corporation, you know it’s going to be a bad week when a jury on Monday morning sends a judge a hand-written note that says: “Punitive damages — Can you please explain this for us?”

That was the bad news facing Frank Harty and Frances Haas of the Nyemaster law firm last week. The judge told the jury to read the instructions. It then came back and awarded $178,000 in real and punitive damages to three women who had accused Allsteel Inc. of Muscatine of violating the Equal Pay Act and of wage discrimination and sex discrimination. Presumably they can recover their legal fees, too. …

Milestones: Danny Homan was re-elected head of Iowa’s AFSCME labor organization the other day. Kathleen Richardson of Drake is stepping down as head of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council; retired Register newsman Randy Evans is expected to take over.

Job watch: Iowa’s nonfarm employment averaged 1,587,200 in June, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Service Agency. That was down 1,200 from May but up 88,500 since Terry Branstad was elected in 2010. That’s when he promised he’d create 200,000 jobs in five years. With six months to go, he’s short 111,500.

The number will go down by one next month when Leonard Strand moves to Iowa. CV


Further proof you should be careful in appointing rich guys to the Board of Regents

“A hundred bucks for a semester, I mean, that’s nothing as far as I’m concerned.” — Regent Subhash Sehai, commenting on a proposed tuition increase as quoted in The Des Moines Register. CV


The Southeast Polk baseball team that won the state championship the other day had eight assistant coaches. CV


Your politicians at work

From last week’s indictment of three persons associated with the Ron Paul campaign and accused of illegally funneling money to former Iowa legislator Kent Sorenson:

“In or about September 2013, shortly after media reports referencing ongoing investigations by the FBI and FEC of the payments to Sorenson by [a Paul] political committee, [committee aide Dimitrios N.] Kesari flew to Omaha, Nebraska, backtracked to Senator Sorenson’s home in Iowa, required that he and Senator Sorenson show each other that neither was wearing a recording device, and then asked that Senator Sorenson either return to Kesari or alter the $25,000 check that Kesari previously gave to Senator Sorenson on or about December 26, 2012, which Senator Sorenson refused to do.” CV

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