2014The first year students were in for a treat this year as they were able to witness two trials during their First Year Trial Practicum; one regarding assault causing injury and the other possession of a firearm by a felon. The Honorable Michael Huppert presided over the first case. The second case, The State of Iowa v. Phankhy Pongxayavong, involved a charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and resulted in a hung jury. The defendant ended up pleading guilty to Carrying a Concealed Weapon, reduced from Felon in Possession of a Firearm.
2013The First Year Trial Practicum case this year was a wrongful death case. In June 2008, 68 year old Janice Brissey was killed in a crash with an Iowa National Guard bus involved in flood duty. Brissey's car was stopped (or moving very slowly) on the highway. The bus crested a hill and hit the back of Brissey's car. The argument was whether the decedent was having a heart-related condition just prior to the collision that caused the accident, or whether the accident (and death of the decedent) was caused by the negligence of the driver of the Iowa National Guard bus.
2012This trial was a civil case with the State of Iowa trying to meet the burden of proof that the defendant was a sexually violent predator. 51 year old Rocky Caldwell had numerous prior charges including two counts of sexual abuse in the 3rd degree, two counts of sexual abuse in the 2nd degree and 1 count of Lascivious Acts with a Child. After each day of the trial, Judge Novak and the attorneys debriefed with the first year law students. Upon completion of the First Year Trial Practicum, students were asked to describe the experience in four separate words. The most commonly expressed words were: Eye-opening, informative, educational, enlightening and valuable.
2011This year the State set out to prove a felony charge resulting from misuse of tax credits for film making in the state of Iowa. Several people involved in the making of films in Iowa were brought up on charges. Wendy Weiner Runge, a 45-year old mother of 4 and part owner of neophyte Polynation Pictures, was charged with first degree theft and other felonies for allegedly grossly inflating expenses in obtaining a $1.85 million transferable tax credit for her 2008 science fiction film "The Scientist." Runge contended that there was no fraudulent intent -- that her company's tax credits submissions for "in-kind" expenses were consistent with film industry practice and had been approved by several persons in state government, including the director of the tax credit program Tom Wheeler. Runge entered into a guilty plea to one count of first-degree fraudulent practices. Presiding Judge Douglas Staskal, citing a lack of remorse, sentenced her to an indeterminate sentence of up to 10-years. Her subsequent appeal was rejected by the Iowa Court of Appeals. She served six months of the prison term at the state women's prison in Mitchellville, Iowa, and then was released on 2-year probation.
State of Iowa v. Andrea LaForgeThis year's First Year Trial Practicum case was the State of Iowa v. Andrea LaForge. LaForge was charged with homicide by vehicle-OWI, homicide by vehicle-reckless, and involuntary manslaughter. One of the passengers in her vehicle was ejected from the vehicle and died from his injuries. Chief District Judge Arthur Gamble presided over this case that involved interesting evidentiary issues. The jury found LaForge guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Two months later, the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, concluding that there was not substantial evidence for the jury to find her guilty of involuntary manslaughter by the public offense of careless driving. As is always the case with the First Year Trial Practicum, more than 20 lawyers, judges and members of the law faculty, volunteering up to a week of their time, observed the case and met with students in small groups to discuss the testimony, the judge's rulings, and lawyer's strategies.
State of Iowa v. Linda WilsonAs happens every few years, the first year law students had the special opportunity to see two jury trials during their First Year Trial Practicum. In the first case, State of Iowa v. Linda Wilson, Wilson was charged with theft in the second degree and theft in the third degree, both felonies. District Court Judge Eliza Ovrom presided. The State charged that defendant Wilson and her son defrauded Target department stores of approximately $1750 in a series of five sale-refund transactions at various Target stores in the metropolitan Des Moines area. The jury returned a verdict of guilty on both counts of theft. As soon as this case concluded with debriefing of the first year students by the jurists on the case, jury selection began for the second case, the State of Iowa v. McMurray. The second case involved a charge of Assault on a Police Officer. The officer, though in uniform, was working as a private security guard at the time of the alleged assault. Associate District Judge Colin Witt presided over the case and two Drake Law students were to be lead counsel. At the conclusion of the jury selection the State dismissed the charges with prejudice, meaning the State cannot refile the charges. Having two different trials as part of the First Year Trial Practicum provided a great experience for the first year students.
State of Iowa v. McMurray
State of Iowa v. Antonio SheleySheley was charged with robbing $850 from the Holiday Inn Downtown in September 2007. Immediately prior to trial Sheley stipulated that he committed the robbery, but denied he had a gun. The prosecution used the hotel videotape, the hotel registration clerk’s testimony and the police detective's cross examination for the jury to arrive at their verdict. The jury found Sheley guilty of first degree robbery, a forcible felony with a mandatory 25-year sentence. The defendant must serve a minimum of seventy percent of this sentence (17.5 years) before he can be considered for parole. The State had made a plea offer whereby he would plead to second degree robbery (10 years) and a habitual offender enhancement, resulting in a 15-year sentence with a mandatory minimum of 70% (10.5 years).
State of Iowa v. Scott Anderson Scott Anderson was charged with the unauthorized use of a credit card in the amount of $704 during the period of December 23-26, 2006. The credit card was stolen from a mailbox in the same apartment complex in which Anderson’s mother resided and to which he had access. The card was activated by someone who called on the telephone line in Anderson’s name in his mother’s apartment. After proceedings, the jury reached a quick guilty verdict. The maximum sentence authorized by law for an aggravated misdemeanor is two years. Drake Law Professor Robert Rigg suggested that because Anderson had no prior criminal record, he believed it likely Anderson might receive probation rather than a prison term. Following the verdict, the students had an opportunity to debrief the jurors, a session that is always enlightening. The jurors advised that they did not believe the alibi witnesses and also observed there was sufficient evidence to convict Anderson even without his statement to the postal inspector that he had indeed used the stolen card to make purchases.
State of Iowa v. Bobby Joe Stouffer was originally charged in May 2006 with involuntary manslaughter, an aggravated misdemeanor. In October 2006, the charges against Stouffer were amended to second-degree murder. Police found Shane Batty dead at his home in Mitchellville. Batty, Stouffer, and other friends partied at the Batty house during the afternoon and evening. An autopsy determined Batty died as a result of a single gunshot wound to the abdomen. The police interviewed Stouffer on several occasions, and videotapes of those interviews were put into evidence. The interviews occurred before Stouffer had counsel. The videotapes showed inconsistent statements—Stouffer initially denied shooting Batty but later admitted shooting him with an antique pistol, but claimed the gun fired accidentally. Three federal prisoners who had been in jail with Stouffer testified that he had bragged about killing Batty. In a trial presided over by Judge Joel Novak, the jury convicted Stouffer of second degree murder.
Gillotti v. MLC Inc. This was a civil suit against the husband and wife owners of Loco Joe’s pool hall arcade near South Ridge Mall. District Judge Scott Rosenberg presided. The plaintiffs Matt Gillotti and Kyle Tapps alleged they were beaten up at the entertainment hall and bar and that owners of the business are liable for permanent injuries sustained in the attack because, in part, the business should have had better security on the night of a Chicago Cubs baseball playoff game. The jury found Loco Joe’s negligent in failing to provide a safe premises, but rejected the Dram Shop claim, finding the defendant did not sell or serve beer to the assailants knowing they were intoxicated. The jury awarded $24,531 in past medical expenses, $500 in pain and suffering, $500 in past loss of function, and $4,500 in lost earnings, for a total judgment of $30,031.
Morgan v. Hairy Mary’s The plaintiff’s arm and wrist were badly broken during a heavy metal concert at a popular bar near the Drake campus. The bar contended the plaintiff was drunk, lost his balance, and broke his arm in a fall to the floor while slam dancing in the mosh pit. Plaintiff contended that he was caught by surprise in the mosh pit, and that his injuries were due to the negligence of the bar in failing to warn patrons of the start of the show and to keep the moshing safe and under control. District Judge Richard Blane presided. The jury found comparative fault with both sides equally responsible and awarded damages of $24,000, which were cut in half due to plaintiff’s fault.
Reed v. CarterDefendant rear-ended plaintiff in an automobile accident on Army Post Road. There was so little visible damage done, and no apparent personal injuries, that the police were not called. Thereafter, the plaintiff claimed to experience whiplash and head pain that at times was excruciating. The plaintiff has gone to the University of Missouri hospitals once every three months for an elaborate and painful treatment for her pain. The Defendant’s position was similar to the All State television “swoop and squat” commercials about fraudulent claims. Defendant challenged Plaintiff’s claim of whiplash, contending it was fabricated. Judge Michael Huppert admitted evidence that years earlier in a different auto accident case this Plaintiff, after obtaining a settlement, did not need to be treated again for medical injuries. The jury entered a verdict for the Defendant.
Ladjahasan v. Iowa State UniversityLadjahasan was employed as a field technician by Iowa State University. He started having health problems, missing so many days of work that other employees donated their sick time to cover for him. Ladjahasan wanted to return to work, but only with limitations on lifting and climbing ladders. He claimed that Iowa State pressured him into applying for permanent disability status and then fired him when his application for disability was denied. Ladjahasan sued Iowa State for violation of the federal Rehabilitation Act based on discrimination for a perceived disability. The jury gave a verdict in favor of Iowa State.
This case, the first federal case to appear in the trial practicum, was tried by Judge William Jay Riley of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. In a letter sent to Drake Law School following the trial, he offered this comment: "Your accomplishment in developing this trial curriculum for first year students is exceptional. I commend Drake Law School for this remarkable program."
State of Iowa v. Brandon SaylesBrandon Sayles was charged with felony child endangerment after his two-month-old baby was blinded from shaken-baby syndrome. There were no eyewitnesses, however, and the evidence against Sayles was all circumstantial. Defense attorneys attempted to show that other adults had access to the child. District Judge Rob Blink presided. The jurors convicted Sayles. Many students were surprised by the verdict. Discussion centered on the credibility of witnesses and why the jurors found the defense arguments unpersuasive.
State of Iowa v. Clarence WillisThe defendant was charged with armed robbery. The robbery occurred at the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Des Moines. The case centered on the reliability of cross-racial eyewitness testimony and conflicting evidence. District Judge Robert Wilson presided. Judge Wilson sustained a Batson challenge which alleged the prosecution had impermissibly exercised a peremptory challenge to strike a prospective black juror from the jury panel. A 12-person jury acquitted Willis. The juror debriefing enabled the students to understand how the jurors reached consensus after an initial 9 - 3 vote for acquittal.
Ken Downing v. City of West Des MoinesThis was a Section 1983 civil case involving claims of constitutional tort and defamation. The case involved Fourth Amendment search and seizure issues, raising troubling issues as to the sweeping scope of the search of the plaintiff's home and business premises and the haphazard accounting done as to items seized. District Judge Robert Blink presided. An eight-person jury awarded Downing $10,000 in damages. Prior to Judge Blink's post-judgment ruling on court-awarded attorneys' fees, the case was settled for $40,000.
State of Iowa v. John Molloy This was a murder trial. The prosecution alleged that after a night of partying with drugs and alcohol, the defendant and two others killed the neighborhood drug dealer. Then-District (now Iowa Court of Appeals) Judge Larry Eisenhauer presided. A 12-person jury convicted Molloy of first degree murder. The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.
State of Iowa v. Stephen Blumberg This case involved a burglary charge. Blumberg was charged with breaking and entering an old apartment complex and stealing its antique ornamentation. Chief Judge Gamble presided. A 12-person jury convicted. The Iowa Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the conviction.