Tuesday, September 21, 2021

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Civic Skinny

Slipknot widow accuses artist of theft, trespass.


The widow of Paul Gray, the masked Slipknot bassist who died of a drug overdose five years ago, is suing a sort-of-well-known Des Moines artist she hired to help produce a book about Gray and stage an event about his life.

The suit, filed Friday in federal district court in Des Moines by Brenna Marie Gray on behalf of herself and her daughter and Gray’s estate, alleges that Lee Ann Conlan not only didn’t do the job but also produced some artwork of her own that infringes on the estate’s copyrights and, further, stole some things from the loft where Brenna Gray was keeping her husband’s effects.

The suit alleges copyright infringement, trespass, theft, invasion of privacy, trademark infringement, unfair competition and breach of oral contract. It further asks that Conlan be barred from displaying any of her own works that are “derivative” of Paul Gray’s, and it seeks money damages.

Conlan, who apparently had been a friend of both Grays, was named one of the sexiest people in Des Moines in 2009 by Cityview. Cityview asked for comment on the lawsuit but hadn’t heard back by presstime.

The book has not been published, and the event did not take place. …

Prep Iowa

A guy who is always full of rumors — and usually they’re right — writes:

“I am hearing that State Senator Dick Dearden likely will not run for reelection in 2016, which would open up one of the safest Iowa senate seats for the Democrats. The most probable candidate for the opening is six-term State Representative and east Des Moines attorney Rick Olson, though Dearden’s apparent preference would be for his daughter, Pam Connors, to take the seat. Connors works under Iowa labor commissioner Michael Mauro, but would likely need to leave that position to start a primary campaign. It’s hard to tell if she would do that to jump into what would be a tough primary race.

“A move on the Senate seat by Olson would free up his Iowa House seat, and union-side labor lawyer Nate Boulton has steadily been positioning himself to run for office and seems to be showing interest in an open run for the solidly Democratic House seat. You may recognize Boulton’s name because his firm has clashed with Governor Branstad in some high profile cases, including a current lawsuit by AFSCME president Danny Homan and over twenty state legislators challenging the closure of two state mental hospitals. School board member Connie Boesen’s name has also come up as a potential candidate for a potential open Iowa House seat, but so far she has not given any real indication that she would be interested in launching a campaign with a tough primary race already shaping up.” …

Management lessons from Iowa State University President Steve Leath:

1. “You don’t work for me very long if you don’t understand the word ‘implement.’ ”

2. “Any time someone from the governor’s staff calls complaining” about something, you should listen. “It would be unwise, it would be just foolish not to have a close working relationship with the top government official when you’re a government entity.”

So even if the call from the Governor’s office questions the university’s decision to allow its mascot to be on a T-shirt a student group produced advocating the legalization of marijuana — a decision that went through all the right channels and was approved without controversy — you quickly call your aides together and tell them to implement a new policy that kills the T-shirt. The words “First Amendment” or “free speech” apparently aren’t mentioned.

That’s all apparent from documents filed last week in the continuing fight over those T-shirts produced by the university’s chapter of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Two students associated with NORML sued Leath and three other university officials in federal court last year. The officials asked the court to dismiss the suit, but the court refused. Now, each side has filed a motion seeking summary judgment in its favor.

The issue arose after The Des Moines Register wrote an article about efforts to legalize marijuana in some states. It mentioned the NORML chapter at ISU and how it was lobbying for the legalization of marijuana in Iowa, and it showed the T-shirt. The article prompted “one or two” emails to ISU from the public. But it also prompted a call or two from the Governor’s office. That “pushback” set the ISU administration into quick action. Shortly, the rules were changed.

“The reason (the issue arose) is because we were getting pushback” (from the Governor’s office), Leath said. “If nobody’d ever said anything, we didn’t know about it, it didn’t appear in the Register, we’d probably never raised the issue.”

The two students say the sudden rejection of their previously approved T-shirt design is a such a clear violation of their First Amendment right of free speech that the judge should rule in their favor without even having a trial. The defendants say that the two don’t even have the right to sue — that the issue is about NORML, not the students, and NORML isn’t a plaintiff. Leath and his colleagues also say that since the T-shirts were produced by a student organization their message is really government speech, and the government can censor itself. (If a student organization’s T-shirt is government speech, of course, the government is encouraging ISU students to investigate kinky sex, for the university has approved use of its trademarks by CUFFS, a student organization that encourages people to engage in bondage and other “alternative sexuality such as kink, fetish [and] BDSM.” “Come and join us (if you’re not tied up),” the website says.)

One sidelight: When the issue arose, an ISU student who was a member of NORML sent an email to Steve Lukan, the director of the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy, inviting him to an “Iowa Marijuana Law Reform Awareness Event.” Among other things, the email advised Lukan “not to be scared” to speak at the meeting.

The email apparently got back to Leath, who didn’t like the tone of the invitation and who told one of the ISU vice presidents to meet with the student. The student “was induced to write a letter of apology to Lukan,” which Leath himself went over beforehand and, according to facts stipulated by both sides, “responded with editing, punctuation, and spelling correction notes.”

The suit is in the court of Judge Jim Gritzner. There’s no indication of when he will rule on the two motions. …

Edward Hagen, the Sioux City doctor who sued his partners when they ousted him and whom Federal Judge Mark Bennett said “will almost certainly come across to the jury as an arrogant jerk,” last week lost the $1,051,814 judgment that that jury had awarded him.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the award and said Bennett “should have entered judgment as a matter of law” in favor of the clinic and its partners.

The circuit judges offered no opinion on whether Hagen is an arrogant jerk. …

Cityview joins those saddened by the deaths of Federal Judge Don O’Brien, who fought for the humane care of prisoners and the competent care of juveniles, and of Melva Bucksbaum, who cared about Des Moines and made it a better place. CV

Comment: A question

In a deposition, Iowa State President Steve Leath says this about his wonderfully named aide Miles Lackey:

He “worked on Capitol Hill for years and got up every day and thought about how people outside campus would perceive the things we’re doing.”

Question: Who on the staff gets up every day and thinks about whether “the things we’re doing” are the right things? CV
Michael Gartner


  1. Casey G says:

    Lee Ann Conlin is an amazing artist and consummate professional who worked tirelessly to created a stunning tribute book about Paul Gray and mount an event that would ultimately server as a fundraiser to support Gray’s widow and child. It’s outrageous that a person with the integrity and kindness of Conlin would have her good name and reputation dragged through the mud by someone who is seemingly unstable and prone to threaten lawsuits of questionable substance.

    Drop the lawsuits, Brenna… Karma is a bitch.

    1. Tony Buns says:

      Well said Casey. It’s a sad shame.

  2. Jaey Sedlacek says:

    Question: Why are reader comments written in support and encouragement of Lee Ann Conlan named in the lead paragraph being deleted shortly after they are first printed? Thank you.

    1. Brian Olson says:

      Libel. Threats from Lawyers.

  3. Rob Smith says:

    Just curious if Mr. Gartner would be so quick to defend the First Amendment rights of a non-religious student group at ISU to include the college logo on a t-shirt that promoted messages that were anti-abortion, pro-traditional marriage, or pro-gun ownership. We all know the answer is that the First Amendment to Mr. Gartner only goes as far as his liberal philosophy allows and in this case he uses it to push the liberal pro-drug agenda. If it were a conservative message on the shirt then he would stomp on First Amendment rights of citizens. It’s also interesting that Gartner doesn’t publish under his own name or include a way to contact him. What does he have to hide?

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