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Civic Skinny

Law dean: ‘I’m not purely a rubber stamp.’


A friend — a droll and witty man who once was well-known in central Iowa — has Alzheimer’s Disease, and he knows it. The other day, a couple of his old pals went to visit him in the Alzheimer’s facility where he now lives.               

They asked him if he knew who they were. He did, sort of. “Beer guy,” he said slowly and softly to one of the pals, the one he used to have a weekly beer with. “Newspaper guy,” he said quietly, looking to the other.                

They talked a bit, though it was awkward because the friend has a hugely difficult time with words and speaks very slowly. And the two guys who went to visit him don’t hear as well as they did 50 years ago. But it was nice.                

Noting a small TV set in the room, one of the pals asked the guy if he watches TV. Yes, the guy said, sometimes — and it should be noted here that the guy has always been a moderate Republican.                

He then went on, struggling to get the words out. “I’m so crazy,” he said very slowly, “that I watch Fox News.” Then, as if he were an entertainer pausing for effect, he added haltingly and quietly, “but it’s all right because I forget it right away.” …                

The Des Moines Register building on Locust Street — where Look magazine was born and where the Des Moines Tribune was killed — is on the market for $3 million. It has 297,475 square feet, according to CBRE/Hubbell Commercial. If that seems a little steep, you can get the Kaleidoscope at the Hub for just $2,515,000. …                

Is a law school dean at the University of Iowa just a rubber stamp for the faculty? Well, not purely.                

That’s what former Dean Carolyn Jones testified the other day in the federal court case brought against her and the university by Teresa Wagner, who alleges she was turned down for a job there because she’s a conservative Republican. The school, at the time of the lawsuit, had one registered Republican among its 50 faculty. The testimony:                

Question: Now, you claim that you had no ability to hire Ms. Wagner absent the faculty’s recommendation, is that right?                

Answer: That’s true.                

Question: But you do admit — so what you are saying essentially is that you are a rubber stamp that’s paid $300,000 a year?                

Answer: No, not at all. I — I think I am not a rubber stamp. In terms of hiring faculty academic tradition in the way that law schools work is that the faculty chooses the academic personnel through faculty governance; but the faculty, when it makes a recommendation for hiring, empowers me to make that hire at an appropriate rank and salary so I would negotiate for salary and some of the other benefits that go with that so I’m not purely a rubber stamp….but with respect to hiring academic — full-time faculty, that is a faculty decision….               

Question: Isn’t it true that a Dean at the College of Law exercised authority not to go along with the faculty vote in the past?                

Answer: I think there was one instance many years ago where a Dean chose not to hire somebody who was recommended to him by the faculty. …               

At the Board of Regents meeting last week, the consent agenda included an item naming former Iowa State University president Greg Geoffroy president emeritus. That usually happens automatically right when a president leaves, but it didn’t for Geoffroy. Must be a story there somewhere. …                

A note from a Democratic woman puzzled — nay, stupefied — by the Register’s endorsement of Mitt Romney:                

“How can the Register support Obamacare and still support Mitt Romney? How can the Register support a woman’s right to control her own body and still support Mitt Romney? How can the Register support gay rights and still support Mitt Romney? How can the Register pan his economic plan for lacking details, yet still support Mitt Romney? How can the Register endorse wind energy credits, and still support Mitt Romney? How can the Register highlight the needs of poor children, and still support Mitt Romney? It defies explanation.”                

But, alas, the endorsement came too late to enlighten tens of thousands of Iowa voters. In Polk County alone, 31,827 Democrats and 17,168 Republicans and 11,232 independents had already voted by Friday and another 25,000 or so voters had requested absentee ballots but not yet returned them, according to Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald. Put another way, as of Friday 60,227 of the county’s 261,229 active voters — that’s about 23 percent — had already voted, and 85,604 voters — about a third of those who are eligible — had requested ballots.                

And since turnout will probably be around 75 percent, it’s probably safe to say that nearly 45 percent of those people who intend to vote already have their ballots, and most of those have sent them in. …                

Jury selection is scheduled to start this week in federal court in Des Moines in the cases of Terry Harrington and Curtis W. McGhee, who spent 26 years in prison following a murder trial that the Iowa Supreme Court determined was unfair. As black teenagers, they were convicted of killing a retired Council Bluffs police captain in 1977. The case was based on questionable testimony from an unreliable 16-year-old — a “completely moldable ball of clay,” according to the latest legal brief — and in 2003 the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Harrington, saying his rights were violated during the trial. Prosecutors chose not to retry him and also vacated McGhee’s conviction. They were released from prison.                

The freed men then sued Pottawattamie County and its two prosecutors in the case and the city of Council Bluffs and two police officers. Federal district court Judge Robert Pratt issued a mixed ruling — saying some claims were subject to a trial, some weren’t. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to district court, noting a distinction between faulty or unfair work in an investigative aspect of a case, which is subject to a trial, and faulty or unfair work in the prosecutorial aspects, which isn’t. While the case was on its way to a decision in the Supreme Court of the United States — where court-watchers said the justices were looking askance at prosecutors who knowingly fabricated evidence — the county and its prosecutors settled for $12 million, $7 million for Harrington and $5 million for McGhee. At the U.S. Supreme Court, the men were represented by Paul Clement, solicitor general in the administration of George W. Bush.                

Now, the suit against the city and police officers Daniel C. Larsen and Lyle Brown is set for trial within the framework of the 8th Circuit limitations.                

The new case includes allegations of reckless failure to pursue leads, fabrication of evidence, knowing use of false evidence, concealment of exculpatory information and racism. Among the lawyers for Harrington: Gerry Spence, the flamboyant 83-year-old Wyoming lawyer who came to fame representing Karen Silkwood and then represented former Filipino First Lady Imelda Marcos, who was acquitted of federal racketeering charges in New York in 1990. …                

Word is that the Iowa Award, the state’s most prestigious award, was just given to Dick Jacobson, who made a fortune in banking and business and has been trying to give it all away. Jacobson lives in Florida and California, and his biggest gift — $100 million — went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. But he’s a born-and-bred Iowan from Clarion. Or Belmond. One of those places.                

Jacobson was the 21st recipient, joining such Iowa luminaries as Herbert Hoover, Simon Estes, Meredith Willson, George Gallup, Henry Wallace, Ding Darling and George Washington Carver. The only business leaders who have won it until now are John Ruan, in 2001, and Bill Knapp in 2010. CV

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