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Civic Skinny

After $1 million in billings, LaMarca quits Godfrey case. Opponents for the mayor? Also: Sex. Real estate. Tirrell.

9/5/2018

After six-and-a-half years of proceedings — and $987,849.80 in billings to taxpayers — George LaMarca is withdrawing as the state’s lawyer in the never-ending discrimination and defamation and retaliation lawsuit filed against former Governor Terry Branstad and five members of his administration by former Workers Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey. The defendants include current Governor Kim Reynolds.

The lawsuit was filed in January of 2012. It has twice been to the Iowa Supreme Court on special questions — last year, that court ruled that a person could seek damages from a government for violations of civil liberties — and the full trial now is scheduled for Jan. 14 in the courtroom of Polk County District Judge Brad McCall.

As commissioner, Godfrey held a post that has a fixed six-year term. He was twice overwhelmingly confirmed in bipartisan votes in the Iowa Senate, and his most recent term was to run until April 30, 2015. But after Branstad was elected in 2010, he demanded that Godfrey resign — first in a letter, then in a meeting. When Godfrey refused, the Governor cut his pay from $112,000 a year to $73,500, the lowest the state could legally pay him. The state never cited much of a reason for wanting him gone.

But there is this: Godfrey is a Democrat, and when Republican Branstad went after Godfrey he was the only openly gay department head in the administration.

Godfrey stayed on at the lower salary, and he sued. The suit is full of allegations, but it really boils down to discrimination and retaliation of one kind or another. The original suit made 14 claims; some were withdrawn and others dismissed. Five remain.

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For some reason, Branstad didn’t want to be defended by the folks at the Attorney General’s office, and that office agreed “in view of the personal nature of the allegations made against the Governor and his strong preference to proceed with outside counsel.” The request was a bit unusual.

Branstad chose the LaMarca law firm, with the state agreeing to pay LaMarca $325 an hour with lesser amounts going to some colleagues. (The choice wasn’t political. Lamarca, a registered Democrat, makes few political contributions, and the ones he has made over the years have gone to fellow Democrats.) The bills quickly began to mount up, even though Solicitor General Jeff Thompson stepped back in to argue the Iowa Constitution issues raised at the Supreme Court.

At any rate, LaMarca the other day told the state he is retiring from the practice of law and wanted to withdraw as the state’s lawyer. The state has agreed to replace him with Frank Harty, a partner at the Nyemaster Goode firm who will be paid $320 an hour, “a significant discount from his standard hourly rate,” according to a letter to the state Executive Council from Thompson. Other lawyers in the Nyemaster firm will get from $170 to $270 an hour for working on the case. (Coincidentally, perhaps, the Nyemaster firm was the former home to Ryan Koopman, the lawyer who now is chief of staff to Gov. Reynolds and who filed an amicus brief in the Godfrey case on behalf of Iowa’s cities, counties and school boards, who were supporting the state’s position.)

Thompson and the Attorney General’s office also have withdrawn from the case now that the Constitutional issues have been resolved. That means the new team has a little over four months to get up to speed on the complicated case — or else request yet another delay in the trial.

Branstad has been deposed, and an expert witness for Godfrey has a report that apparently implies Branstad’s reasons for cutting Godfrey’s pay — reasons that are “inane and sometimes contradictory,” according to a Godfrey brief — were just a pretext to hide the fact that the actions were based on “the sexual orientation or political philosophy” of Godfrey.

The state has objected to the report, but the judge has ruled it admissible. Three times, too, Godfrey has gone to court to compel the defendants to produce documents; three times, the court has issued such an order; three times, the defendants have failed to fully comply.

Godfrey, now 45 years old — who left his job in August of 2014 to become Chief Judge and chair of the Employees’ Compensation Appeal Board of the U.S. Labor Department in Washington — is represented by Roxanne Conlin, the most noted of Iowa’s civil-rights lawyers, a onetime gubernatorial loser to Branstad, and a big biller. If Godfrey wins, the state will have to pay Conlin’s fees, which could well be twice what LaMarca has billed. By the time of the trial, the suit will be seven years old. That’s a lot of billable hours.

So the whole thing could end up costing the taxpayers $3 million, maybe more.

If Branstad had simply left Godfrey alone to serve out his term at his established salary, the cost to the state — the difference between $112,000 a year and $73,500 a year for 46 months — would have been about $150,000. …

Political rumors: Skip Moore, who lost his at-large City Council seat last year to Connie Boesen, is thinking of running against Linda Westergaard next year, some friends say. Westergaard holds the Second Ward seat, which covers the northeast side where Moore lives. Moore didn’t respond to a CITYVIEW email. Westergaard says she’s running again and doubts Moore is. He’s “a straight-shooter, [and] since he hasn’t talked to me about running…I’m inclined to believe the rumors aren’t true.”

And two young community leaders — both under 40 — are talking privately about running for mayor next year against long-time incumbent Frank Cownie. Neither has made up his mind, but each would be a formidable foe. Cownie, who is 70 and who was first elected in 2003, hasn’t had a serious challenger since beating Christine Hensley that year. He won with 80 percent of the vote in 2007, had no opponent in 2011, and won by 80 percent again in 2015. …

Yet another lawsuit has been filed against Marty Tirrell, the serial scammer and sometime sports radio shouter.
The plaintiff this time is Doug DeYarman, the managing partner of Shottenkirk Chevrolet in Waukee. The allegations follow a familiar pattern. In the lawsuit, filed in July, DeYarman says he occasionally purchased sports tickets from Tirrell, presumably without problems. Then in January of this year, the suit says, Tirrell “approached [DeYarman] regarding an opportunity to purchase a number of tickets to Super Bowl 52 on February 4, 2018, both for personal use and resale.”

DeYarman gave Tirrell $43,006.03, the suit says. But this time he got no tickets. “In the days and months following Super Bowl 52, [Tirrell] made a number of assurances” that the money would be returned. But it never was. So De Yarman sued for fraud.

As is often the case, Tirrell ignored the suit. On Aug. 16, Judge Michael Huppert gave DeYarman 30days to file motions that presumably would lead to a default judgment. But DeYarman’s chance of collecting is somewhere around zero. Tirrell has several millions of dollars of judgments against him, and his attempt to escape them by filing for bankruptcy fell through when the judge threw out the petition because it was full of holes. (When Tirrell did show up to defend himself in another suit this summer, the judge noted that “Tirrell was not a credible witness based on demeanor and inconsistencies within his testimony,” and she awarded the plaintiff $1,071,327.43.)

DeYarman did not respond to a request for comment.

Meantime, the FBI apparently is continuing to investigate Tirrell, who also faces a federal tax lien on his property and a warrant for his arrest in Massachusetts. His shows are no longer on radio or cable. …

Tom Rossley, the Drake trustee who was ousted in 2016 after challenging the university’s ruling expelling his son in a sexual-misconduct case, has lost a key point in his suit saying the university didn’t have the right to throw him off the board. He had alleged that he was covered by the anti-discriminatory language of Title IX because his removal was related to the sex case involving his son, who has a learning disability.

Federal District Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger didn’t buy that argument.

Rossley “is not employed by Drake University and he has not sufficiently pleaded he was excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity,” Ebinger ruled. “He thus cannot bring a retaliation claim under Title IX.”

Two counts remain in the suit — breach of fiduciaryduties by the Drake board and breach of Drake’s policies and procedures by the board and the university. Rossley, a Drake graduate who lives in the Chicago area, had been a trustee for 23 years.

Meantime, the suit by Rossley’s son against Drake also continues to wind through Goodgame’s court. He sued in December of 2016 alleging the Title IX investigation by Drake that led to his dismissal deprived him of his rights, and he alleges discrimination based on disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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.

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 woman apparently visited some other male students afterwards, and one unsettled issue in the suit is whether her sexual activity is admissible. …

A 5,800-square-foot home on five acres at 3550 Lincoln Place Drive sold the other day for $1,550,000, the highest price paid for a home in the Des Moines city limits since a $1.6 million sale in 2014. The home was purchased by Sara Ghrist from Richard and Katherine Cohan, who had bought the house from Ghrist in 2014 for $1,400,000, according to records in the Polk County Assessor’s office. The home, built in 1936, was the longtime home of the Ghrist family.

Another million-dollar-plus sale was made in July. Anthony and Andrea Klemm paid $1,225,000 for a stately 4,500-square-foot home on nearly an acre at 210 Foster Drive. The 10-room, two-story brick home, which backs on to Greenwood Park, was built in 1927 and had been owned by Warren H. May, according to county records. …

Leonard Boswell, who died Aug. 17 at age 84, worked hard at being a soldier and at being a politician. He was good at both…. B.J. Furgerson, who died Aug. 14 at age 91 in Cedar Rapids, was on the board of Iowa Public Television for 35 years, where she was a strong voice and a beloved colleague. She was also a fierce advocate for civil rights — and a nice person. ♦

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