Monday, May 17, 2021

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Civic Skinny

Drake ousts a longtime trustee after son is expelled. Sorenson appeals, decides not to ‘take it a like a man.’


Good news for Steve Leath: Auburn University, where he will be the new president, owns at least 15 airplanes, according to records at the Federal Aviation Commission. …

Drake University has ousted long-time trustee Tom Rossley after he claimed that his son was expelled after being unfairly treated in a campus sexual-assault investigation. The fired trustee now has sued Drake and its board in federal district court in Des Moines, saying Drake failed in its duty to him as a parent and trustee and alleging he was thrown off the board for pressing his son’s case with Drake officials and fellow trustees.

The son, under the alias of John Doe, also has sued the university and its board, as well as seven individuals, alleging violation of his Constitutional right to due process, violation of the federal Title IX law barring discrimination based on sex, violation of laws against discrimination based on disability and several other counts.

Father and son have hired perhaps the best-known lawyer in America at defending college men accused of rape.

The suits stem from an incident in the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2015, when young Rossley — Thomas Rossley III — and a female student acquaintance who is not named in the lawsuits engaged in oral sex in his car outside a fraternity and then may or may not have had intercourse in the fraternity house. Both students had been drinking prodigiously, the son’s suit says.

Prep Iowa

Ultimately, the woman went to university officials and complained of assault. An investigation was conducted, and young Rossley, a junior, was expelled in February 2016.

The elder Rossley repeatedly took up his son’s case with Drake officials and fellow trustees. The investigative process was terribly flawed, he argued, saying that in fact his son was assaulted by the female, not the other way around, and that investigators “purposefully and maliciously ignored” his son’s contention that he was the unwilling victim. The suit alleges that the investigative process is skewed in favor of females and that the process made no accommodation to the son’s “mental and learning disabilities,” as the law requires. (The father’s 41-page suit refers to “disabled son” 129 times.)

In late April of last year, Rossley sent a letter to fellow trustees warning them of what he viewed as the liability they and the university faced if Drake continued to practice “such biased and legally flawed policies.” Eight hours later, Larry Zimpleman, then the board chairman, sent an e-mail to all trustees telling them not to engage in any “discussions of the issues” and not to share the letter with anyone outside the board, Rossley’s suit alleges.

Two days later, according to the suit, Zimpleman and Dave Miles, head of the board-affairs committee, “cornered Plaintiff and verbally attacked Plaintiff for complaining about the numerous violations of his disabled son’s rights.” They told him to “stop this immediately,” the suit states, “to stop sending emails and talking to people, on the…board and off.”

Rossley says that five days later he agreed not to speak publicly about the issue “so he could remain on the board in good standing.” Instead, the suit says, Zimpleman and Miles phoned him and “strongly suggested the he step down as a trustee” after serving 23 years on the board. He refused. In June, the board tried to remove him, but there were not enough trustees present to get the two-thirds vote needed for removal.

On July 19, the board held a telephonic meeting and voted him off.

That vote was illegal under Iowa law and illegally retaliatory under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by quashing his right to free speech, the suit says.

The elder Rossley — a Drake graduate and now a financial executive in Chicago — is asking for damages for emotional distress, for harm to his reputation, for economic injuries, and for the impact on his future career. He is also seeking legal fees. The younger Rossley is asking for basically the same thing in his eight-count suit as well as for compensation “for the inability to complete his studies at Drake.”

Father and son have hired Andrew Miltenberg of New York to argue their cases. Miltenberg is “the go-to attorney for students accused of sexual assault,” according to Newsweek magazine, and has defended more than 75 accused male students at 50 universities and colleges across the country.

The son’s suit was filed Dec. 1, the father’s Feb. 17.  On Feb. 10, the university’s lawyers at the Nyemaster Goode firm moved to dismiss the son’s case. There has been no ruling.

The woes of the younger Rossley didn’t end with his expulsion. According to Polk County court records, he was pulled over at 2 a.m. on Oct. 27 of last year and charged with first offense drunken driving. On Jan. 30, he pleaded guilty and under a plea agreement received a deferred judgment under which the court record — but not the driving record — will be expunged if he has no further arrests in the next six months.

At the time of his arrest, he listed his occupation as “full-time student.” …

Young Rossley asked the court for permission to proceed with the case under the pseudonym “John Doe,” but Drake has objected. “The relief [Rossley] seeks, to cloak himself in a veil of secrecy while asserting serious claims against a non-profit institution and its leadership, is exceptional,” Drake responded. Further, it says, his father screwed him by filing his own complaint that “is so explicit and precise that the local press deduced the identity” of the son.

Meantime, lawyer Miltenberg has picked up another Iowa “John Doe” as a client. The latest Mr. Doe, a Grinnell College student from the state of Washington, had sex with a female classmate on the first day of their freshman year in 2014 and with another student in the summer of 2015, according to a lawsuit filed in federal district court in Des Moines. Ultimately, sexual-assault complaints were filed with the college, and the college hired investigators and an independent adjudicator. The ruling went against the student, and he was expelled.             T

he student denied that the incidents were coerced or without consent. His lawsuit alleges denial of due process against the college and violation of Title IX against the college and six persons and a Kansas City law firm involved in the proceedings, among other things.

The suit asks for compensation for “damages to physical well-being, emotional and psychological damages, damages to reputation, past and future economic losses, loss of educational and athletic opportunities and loss of future career prospects.”

Query for a law-school class somewhere: If a lawsuit is filed under an alias, how can it damage the reputation of the student?…

After former legislator Kent Sorenson was sentenced to 15 months in the penitentiary on Jan. 13 by Senior Federal District Judge Robert Pratt, his lawyer said Sorenson would “take it like a man” and not appeal.

He took it like a man for 17 days.

On Jan. 30, acting without a lawyer, he appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. That court then appointed lawyer Monty Brown to defend Sorenson.

Brown, who was Sorenson’s lawyer throughout the trial, then asked to withdraw from the case. Sorenson “is indigent and desires appointment of counsel with ‘fresh eyes’ to review the merits of any appeal,” Brown told the court. Also, there was “a breakdown of the attorney-client relationship…regarding strategies in the district court and merits of any appeal.”

Perhaps more to the point: Sorenson hasn’t been paying his legal bills.

The court denied Brown’s motion to withdraw. …

Legislators and lobbyists say Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter was wise not to seek a second six-year term on the board. He didn’t have a chance of getting the 34 votes he needed to be confirmed by the Iowa Senate, they say. “Not a Democrat would have voted for him,” says a well-connected lobbyist.

Two reasons: He poured money into the Republican coffers in the latest election, and some legislators are dismayed with the shenanigans of Iowa State University President Steven Leath and the procedures that led to the selection of University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld.

Since he was appointed to the Regents by Gov. Terry Branstad in 2011, Rastetter has contributed about $400,000 directly to Republican legislative candidates or pacs supporting them. Since 2010, he has given close to $200,000 to committees supporting Branstad, and more recently he has given $35,000 to the committee supporting Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, according to filings with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board.

But look for interim appointee Mike Richards to be confirmed for a full term and for holdovers Sherry Bates of Scranton and Katie Mulholland of Marion to be reconfirmed if the Governor reappoints them. …

There was little — make that nothing — for Democrats to be happy with in the bill Republicans passed that strips public labor unions of all their power. Except: Freshman Sen. Nate Boulton from the northeast side of Des Moines and Pleasant Hill emerged as a forceful and thoughtful partisan, say folks who watched the debates.

“He reminded me of a young Tom Vilsack,” says a long-time lobbyist. “He was calm, he was prepared, he was factual” as he proposed amendments and tried to fend off Republicans and ease the battering. “Everyone is talking about him,” says a Democratic office-holder.

Boulton, who grew up in Columbus Junction and has degrees from Simpson and Drake Law School, probably earned himself a seat on the Democrats’ bench of possible future leaders. At the moment, there’s a lot of room on that bench. …

Iowa State University took a big hit in February when a Federal Appellate Court upheld District Court Judge James Gritzner’s injunction that barred the university from prohibiting an Iowa State group advocating for the legalization of marijuana from depicting a cannabis leaf along with the ISU logo on T-shirts.

The university had approved the design, but after a Register article about it the governor’s office and a staffer from the House Republican caucus raised questions with ISU. University President Steve Leath then changed the rules — “Anytime someone from the Governor’s staff calls complaining, yeah, I’m going to pay attention, absolutely” — and the design approval was in effect rescinded.

Two officers of the group — NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — went to court and won the injunction.

“The record is replete with statements from [Leath and other ISU officials] regarding their political motives,” the appellate court noted. That’s discrimination based on viewpoint, and that’s illegal.

Iowa State has asked the full Court of Appeals to hear the case. And the lawyers for the NORML plaintiffs — Paul Gerlich and Erin Furleigh —  have asked the court to order Iowa State to pay legal fees totaling about $193,000 to the five lawyers who handled the case on appeal. The lawyers — led by Robert Corn-Revere of a Washington law firm — have yet to submit fees tor their work in district court since there is still work to do in arguing the extent of the damages due Gerlich and Furleigh. The suit could end up costing the university $500,000 or more….

 “In a state as conservative as Iowa on many issues” the marijuana trademark case “was going to be a problem,” ISU President Steve Leath said.

It kind of makes you wonder if he thinks the First Amendment applies only in liberal states.

Meantime, Leath has been hit with another First Amendment suit.

Robert Dunn, an ISU student, refused to sign what is in effect a loyalty oath, pledging compliance with ISU policies on speech and harassment. Dunn says the policies “operate as an unconstitutional speech code that chills protected student speech by prescribing punishment of students on the subjective reactions of listeners, including whether fellow students and ISU administrators believe a student’s speech is ‘necessary’ or ‘a legitimate topic.’ ”

According to the lawsuit, students who don’t sign the pledge “face sanctions, including a hold on their graduation.”

The suit describes Dunn as a Christian, a political conservative and founder and president of the ISU chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. He wants the court to bar Iowa State from enforcing the parts of the code that he alleges violate his right to due process under the law as well as his rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Lawyers for Leath and the six other defendants deny most of the allegations and add that some of the rules no longer are in effect. Amended pleadings are due by March 15. Trial has been set for April 9, 2018, before Chief Judge John Jarvey in federal court for the southern district of Iowa. …

Every little bit helps: The state’s Executive Council has approved a $94.50 bill submitted by the LaMarca law firm in the Chris Godfrey discrimination and defamation lawsuit filed against state officials. The lawsuit is basically about $150,000 in pay that Godfrey says he was shorted by vindictive state officials when he headed the Iowa Workers Compensation Board.

The $94.50 raises the total paid to LaMarca to $913,232.45. So far. The case has not yet come to trial. …

Update: After Cityview went to press last month, the Federal Bankruptcy Court threw out sports-radio’s Marty Tirrell’s bankruptcy petition, as noted on the Web version of the column. Tirrell has appealed that decision.


Mean-spirited legislators 

The union-bashing bill passed by the Iowa Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Terry Branstad is the most mean-spirited and short-sighted piece of legislation I have seen since returning home to Iowa in 1974.

It will greatly harm the state’s institutions — especially the Regents universities — before it ends up biting the over-reaching Republicans who gleefully and hurriedly passed it.

I was on the Board of Regents for a little more than six years, and I was president of that board for about three years. I quickly discovered the universities had a caste system: the academics and professionals were treated with kid gloves and with respect (and, sometimes, fear) by the universities’ administrators; the workers were at best ignored or at worst disdained by those administrators.

About 6,500 of those workers are represented by AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It was AFSCME, and only AFSCME — Danny Homan at headquarters in Des Moines and the straw bosses on the campuses in Ames and Iowa City and Cedar Falls — that looked out for those workers. The universities didn’t, and neither did the Regents.

Those workers — blue-collar, security, technical, clerical — make an average of about $42,000 a year. AFSCME negotiates for them even if they don’t pay union dues. The negotiations traditionally covered wages, insurance, hours, vacations, overtime, layoff procedures, health-and-safety issues and grievance procedures.

Now, that is all gone. Under the draconian bills passed in February, AFSCME — and most other public unions, including the teachers’ union —  will be able to negotiate little more than wages. Insurance, supplemental pay, procedures for transfers and layoffs and evaluations and grievances, and seniority benefits now are off the table. And, under the new law, no contract impasse that goes to arbitration can be resolved with a pay increase of more than 3 percent or the cost-of-living — whichever is smaller.

The final insults: Union members have to vote to recertify their union every time a contract expires. And no public employer — and that includes cities and counties and area colleges and school districts and Regents universities — can deduct union dues from a worker’s paycheck.

AFSCME is appealing to the courts, arguing that the legislation violates the Iowa Constitution by establishing two classes of public employees — public-safety employees, who are not affected by the legislation, and others — and that that distinction deprives those who aren’t public-safety employees of their “constitutional guaranty of equality of all before the law.” The suit was filed in Polk County District Court but could get quickly to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Shortly after I was elected president of the Regents, in 2005, Gary Steinke, then a university lobbyist, told me I should have a cup of coffee with Homan, whom I didn’t know. “You’ll like him,” Steinke said. He was right. We agreed to meet regularly, and ultimately made this deal: I wouldn’t propose any changes at the universities that affected his workers without first talking it over with him, and he wouldn’t go forth with any grievances without first talking it over with me. We didn’t always agree, but we always communicated, and we headed off what could have been some nasty confrontations.

I found, along the way, two things: First, that the AFSCME members had a lot of good suggestions on how to make the universities more efficient, and, second, that Homan is as big-hearted as he is blustery — and he is plenty blustery. He cares deeply about the 40,000 people he represents — about a third of whom probably are Republicans — and he cares about his friends.

Alone, a clerk at a university has no power. Together, backed by AFSCME, the clerks and technical workers and all the others have had the power to build a better life, one in which they can afford to enjoy life when they are healthy and not be bankrupted when they get sick.

Now, unless the courts intervene, the 6,500 university workers and the 33,500 other Iowans represented by AFSCME will be 40,000 individuals, with little voice, with little motivation to excel, with big new worries and with lots of reasons to despair about this state. This law will break their spirit, and it will break Danny Homan’s heart.

Maybe that’s the intent.

— Michael Gartner

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