Friday, March 23, 2018

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Civic Skinny

Changes at Channel 8. Lawsuits. A dress code.


No shoes, no shirt, no paycheck: There will be a dress code for Des Moines Register workers after they move to Capital Square next month. They’re being told about it at meetings this week.

Laura Hollingsworth will continue to oversee the Register from her new job as publisher of The Nashville Tennessean. For the first time since Gannett bought the paper in 1985, the Register will not be reporting to headquarters. That’s not a particularly good thing. …

It seems like just last week that Cityview reported how Federal Judge Mark Bennett called a litigant in his courtroom an arrogant jerk. Dr. Edward Hagen was suing his partners, who had fired him from their medical group. Hagen “will almost certainly come across to the jury as an arrogant jerk, and that would be on a good day,” the judge wrote. “I believe it is highly unlikely the recovery, if any, will be worth the trial risks….I would be surprised if Hagen wins, and I would be even more shocked if he wins a substantial verdict.”

On Friday, the jury awarded Hagen $1,051,814. …

Rep. Bruce Braley, who is seeking the Senate seat Tom Harkin is leaving, reported raising $1,035,875 in the first quarter from 1,475 individuals and organizations. About a hundred of the givers live in Des Moines. The big-hitters: Harry and Pam Bookey are each in for $5,000, Dave Hurd and Fred Weitz and Greg Peterson and Marc Harding and Guy Cook for $2,600, Rich Eychaner for $2,500 and Fred Hubbell for $2,400. From West Des Moines, attorneys Joe and Brian Galligan are in for $2,600 each. No other candidate has filed any reports for the race. …

On Facebook, 10,396 people “like” Braley, as of the other day. Others? For Steve King, 11,650; Chuck Grassley, 11,428; Terry Branstad, 6,333; Tom Harkin, 5,401; Tom Latham, 5,263; Chet Culver, 3,643, and Kim Reynolds, 1,166…. And Cityview? 5,294. …

Katie Ward, co-anchor of KCCI 8 “News This Morning,” is leaving the station, according to an internal memo from station manager Dave Busiek. Busiek’s note stated, “As some of you have noticed, we have posted a job opening for morning anchor. That is because Katie Ward has decided to stay home with her children for the time being. Having two little ones while working the morning shift has been an understandable challenge for Katie. Having said that, we’re going to miss her. Katie has worn many hats at the station — from intern, to reporter to anchor. And she’s done them all with enthusiasm and professionalism. She will be around for a while…the change is down the road a bit.” The guy who passed the note along says “for the time being” is code for “she quit without having another job but will only be at home with her kids until she finds one” and that “research was causing some changes she wasn’t happy with.”

Still more. Stacey Horst, who is an anchor at KCCI at 6 and 10 p.m., and a perennial favorite in Cityview’s Best of Des Moines contest, will now be anchoring the 5 p.m. newscast as well. The 5 p.m. anchor, Cynthia Fodor, has been moved to weekend morning anchor. Weekend morning anchor Marcus McIntosh has been taken off the anchor desk and will now be a field reporter. So the weekend morning crew will now be Fodor, Amanda Lewis and Metinka Slater. …

A trust of Gary Kirke’s is suing Hurd Mills LLC — that’s real-estate guy Richard Hurd — alleging that Hurd has backed out of a deal to buy around 30 acres at 60th Street and George Mills Parkway. The developments are known as Glennan Square South and Glennan Square North, and the lawsuit indicates the sale price could have been as high as $12.7 million. The suit, filed the other day in Polk County district court, asks that the contract be terminated and seeks unspecified damages. …

Big changes at The Iowan, a bimonthly state magazine published by Pioneer Publishing, a printing company owned by Jim Slife with offices in Des Moines. Three key employees are leaving. Publisher Gaela Wilson is leaving to become a freelance marketing consultant. Editor Beth Wilson is becoming director of the Office of Marketing and Communications at Drake University. And Bobbie Russie, the art director, is leaving to do freelance work. …

The wheels of justice continue to turn, but slowly. Last week, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in yet another case involving Terry Harrington and Curtis W. McGhee Jr., the two Council Bluffs men who spent 25 years in prison for a murder they might not have committed. They were released after the Iowa Supreme Court held in 2003 that they were wrongly convicted because the state had withheld evidence. The state chose not to retry them. They then sued, collecting $12 million from Pottawattamie County after argument was held in the United States Supreme Court but before a decision was handed down. They then sued again, this time against the city of Council Bluffs and two police officers. They have asked for $62 million.

A side issue, in a separate lawsuit, was whether the city and the individual defendants were covered by insurance. Federal Judge Robert Pratt had ruled that the policies didn’t cover the defendants, and last week the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that seven of the policies didn’t cover the defendants, but it said that one, for malicious prosecution, might have, and it sent that issue back to Judge Pratt for trial. The question  for next year’s bar exam. Does “malicious prosecution” occur when a person is convicted or when a conviction is thrown out? Pay close attention if you’re ever wrongfully charged with killing someone.

The lawsuit against the city and the officers lasted six weeks and was marked by more than 100 motions and scores of bench conferences. Harrington was represented by Gerry Spence, one of the great trial lawyers of all time who said that this was his last case. And it ended stunningly: The jury foreman said the jury voted for the defendants, but when Judge Pratt polled the jury three jurors said they disagreed with the foreman, that the result didn’t reflect their views. The judge declared a mistrial.

The defendants then filed various motions with Pratt’s court, and last week he ruled on those, granting some but saying the case “is now ripe for retrial” on the issue of whether the defendants manufactured evidence against Harrington and McGhee and whether the defendants knowingly used false or unreliable evidence against them. But Pratt granted the parties 10 days to appeal that ruling. After that issue is settled — by the lack of an appeal or by waiting for a decision of the appellate court — he will set a trial date.

As Pratt noted in last week’s ruling, “this case has been actively litigated on the Court’s docket for nearly a decade” but key questions of law remain. Allowing an appeal now, before the retrial, “may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.” He didn’t say so, but it sounded as if he fervently hopes that “ultimate termination” comes sooner rather than later. …

A guy who read the Register memo about not using the left or the right urinals in the newsroom — apparently only the middle one is working — says the newspaper appears to be eliminating “flush left” and “flush right.” That’s kind of funny, if you know anything about typesetting. If you don’t, it’s too complicated to explain — and not worth it.

Still more Register stuff: A former Register person writes that “like a lot of readers, you have likely noticed increasingly scant and inconsistent coverage coming out of the City of Des Moines beat. Anyone who bothers to care should be concerned by that glaringly obvious trend.” He goes on to note that one reporter, Emily Schettler, now has to cover five major beats — Des Moines, Des Moines schools, West Des Moines, West Des Moines schools and Dallas County.

And “up until recently, Josh Hafner handled the bulk of municipal reporting in Des Moines. Apparently, he has been shifted to the digital desk, though it’s not clear for how long. Oh, and it looks like the editors dispatched him on April 27 to take photos at the Iowa Christian Academy prom. That’s titanically important stuff. Apparently, prom coverage is more important than keeping the young reporter completely plugged in on a beat he has not yet held for 18 months, assuming the editors intend to keep him in that role. If they do, it would be foolhardy for the editors to think this is the way to help Mr. Hafner grow into the beat, which requires serious time, dedication, and focus. Anyone who has spent five minutes paying attention to Des Moines’ city government, its neighborhoods and economy knows that.”…

Cityview half as popular as Steve King?  Sheeeshh. CV

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