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Civic Skinny

Court throws out Tirrell case against Gabus; Heitshusen, Wheater trials set. Divorce news.


Marty Tirrell’s lawsuit against Charles Gabus Motors has been thrown out of court. Tirrell, the radio broadcaster with a long list of judgments against him, had said he had an employment contract with Gabus’ Toyota dealership. As “proof,” he cited two bizarre “to whom it may concern” letters.

Not good enough, Judge Scott Rosenberg said Friday.

“The two letters were written by [an employe of Gabus] and addressed to third parties. [Tirrell is not] a party to either letter, and therefore there is no possible evidence of a meeting of the minds between the parties,” Rosenberg ruled, and then he granted Gabus’ motion for summary judgment.

Gabus’ suit against Tirrell remains. In that suit, the auto dealer is seeking the return of about $80,000 that it gave Tirrell when he promised he could produce football star Troy Aikman to do promotional things for Toyota of Des Moines. Toyota produced the money; Tirrell didn’t produce Aikman, that suit alleges. …

Federal Judge Mark Bennett unloaded on another out-of-state lawyer last week.


In the past, Bennett-watchers will recall, the Sioux City-based judge forced an East Coast lawyer to write an ethics article on why his allegedly obstructionist and dilatory tactics in court were wrong. Last year, he quizzed East Coast lawyers on how many states border Iowa.

Now, he has sanctioned a Chicago lawyer to “write and produce a training video in which” she, or a partner in her firm, “addresses the impropriety of unspecified ‘form’ objections, witness coaching, and excessive interruptions.”

The lawyer must send the video to trial lawyers in her firm. He said that “Counsel’s improper objections, coaching, and interruptions [during pretrial proceedings] went far beyond what judges should tolerate of any lawyer, let alone one as experienced and skilled as Counsel.” He said the lawyer’s “baseless interjections and obstructionist commentary were ubiquitous.”

Then, oddly, he added: “I was greatly impressed by how Counsel performed at trial.”

The lawyer wasn’t named in the 34-page ruling, but a legal blog identified her as June K. Ghezzi of the world-wide firm of Jones Day.

Bennett is an equal-opportunity curmudgeon. Four years ago, he took to court a three-foot-long two-by-four attached to a six-foot pole. It was, he explained, an “attorney behavior modification tool.” He added: “It’s not quite long enough to reach counsel table, but they may not want to get too close.”

And in that case, he allegedly said to an assistant United State Attorney:

“I’m fucking sick and tired of you always disagreeing with me! How many fucking cases have you researched on the double-jeopardy issue? You’re always fucking disagreeing with me without having done any fucking research.” And: “I won’t have a problem with the fact that (a certain assistant U.S. attorney) disagrees with my ruling. Hell, he’s not smart enough to agree with one of my rulings.”

Bennett, who was appointed to the federal bench 20 years ago, plans to retire next year. …

Sonya Heitshusen, the WHO anchor who was charged with drunken driving on June 7, pleaded not guilty in district court the other day. A jury trial has been scheduled for Sept. 29. The plea was notarized by lawyer Steven Wandro; court records indicate Heitshusen and Wandro were divorced in Adair County in December of 2012.

The jury trial for Heitshusen’s Channel 13 colleague, Erik Wheater, is set for Sept. 24. He also was picked up for first-offense OWI in early June. …

No one seems to have noticed, but after 56 years of marriage Buzz and Sue Brenton were divorced three months ago. Both are 79 years old. The court sealed all records except for the financial settlement. They split assets of about $14 million, and she got the beautiful home at 1400 Windover Road as well as $500,000, court records indicate. She has taken her maiden name, Sue Rutledge. They have agreed to share a secretary. …

Enough is enough? When the Executive Council last week approved the latest payment of $8,741.24 to lawyers in the Chris Godfrey lawsuit against the state, the governor and others, Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald voted no. The payment put the total so far at about $535,000. It was the first time there was a dissent among the five members. The council consists of the Democratic Treasurer and the Republican Auditor, Secretary of State, Secretary of Agriculture and the defendant Governor. Meantime, lawyers continue to spar, and no trial date has been set. CV

The Bar Exam

A committee of the Iowa State Bar Association has proposed that Iowa change its rules so that graduates of the law schools at Drake and the University of Iowa be admitted to the practice of law in this state without taking the bar exam.

That is not a good idea.

The Supreme Court, which sets the rules, has been taking comments from lawyers and others, and last week it set a public hearing for Aug. 27. Twenty-three persons are scheduled to appear and comment, including the deans of the two law schools, Attorney General Tom Miller, former U.S. Attorney Roxanne Conlin, a handful of judges and others who have strong feelings on the issue.

The Bar committee’s argument is as simple as it is flawed: If admitted upon graduation, the young lawyers would be able to start practicing immediately and begin paying off their college and law-school debts. The average four-and-a-half month delay between graduation and admission to the bar costs the would-be lawyer an average of $29,000 in lost income, the committee says.

And that four-and-a-half month retention of debt and loss of income keep young lawyers from hanging out their shingles in small towns, serving “historically underrepresented communities” or entering public service, the argument goes.


That seems a stretch.

You learn a lot in law school — I am a graduate of the law school at New York University — but you learn the broad brush-strokes, not the fine details. Mainly, though, you learn how to think. You learn how to look at an issue from all sides, take it apart and put it back together, consider how it fits into historical patterns, and ponder how it fits into society today. You learn some principles from famous cases and some basic truths from the Constitution — and then you learn that those principles change and those truths aren’t always basic.

The bar exam tests your grasp of these principles and truths — as they are interpreted today — but it’s also a test of your ability to think and analyze and look at an issue from all sides. It’s a test, in other words, to see if you have learned anything in law school.

For some, the answer is no. Nationwide, 83,986 persons took bar exams last year; 26,960 of them — 32 percent — flunked. In Iowa, 377 persons took the exam and 46 — 12 percent — flunked, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners. According to the report prepared by the Iowa bar committee urging an end to the exam for Drake and U of I grads, 996 graduates of Drake and Iowa took the Iowa bar exam for the first time in the five years from 2008 through 2012, and 68 of those — 6.8 percent — flunked. The annual flunk rate for first-time takers was as high as 24 percent for Drake grads, as high as 15 percent for Iowa graduates.

So the exam does weed out the slow-learners.

Further, Iowa would keep the exam for graduates of other schools — for instance, Yale or Harvard or Stanford or Columbia or the University of Chicago, which are ranked as the top five law schools in the nation. So it sets up a two-class system, which could discourage non-Drake and non-Iowa graduates from wanting to come here. And, without casting any aspersions, that might lower the quality of lawyers in the state.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Iowa’s law school is ranked 27th among the 194 law schools in the country; Drake’s is ranked 113th.

There was a time — from 1873 until 1884 — when Iowa recognized this so-called diploma privilege, granting automatic bar admission to graduates of the in-state schools. Most states had similar rules. But most dropped the rule in the 1800s, according to a report from the staff of the Iowa Supreme Court, and today the privilege exists only in Wisconsin. What’s more, the American Bar Association opposes the practice.

So it boils down to this: Dropping the bar exam would be a nifty recruiting tool for Iowa’s two law schools, might keep out some very talented young lawyers from very good law schools elsewhere, and would increase the risk that when you hire a lawyer you might end up with a person who might better have been a steamfitter.

It’s not a good idea.

* * *

If the state’s legal establishment is truly worried about the debt law-school students pile up, there’s a simple solution: Cut a year out of the three-year curriculum. President Obama — a lawyer — has suggested it, and some law schools are trying variations of it.

Of course, that would mean laying off some professors and seeing a drop in revenue.

So scratch that idea. CV

— Michael Gartner

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