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Across the Region: April 7


Sioux City, agency at odds over new traffic cam laws

The city of Sioux City’s claims pertaining to new state regulations governing automated traffic cameras are “outlandish,” the Iowa Department of Transportation said in court documents filed recently.

The city filed a petition for judicial review March 7, saying that the new state regulations, which went into effect Feb. 12, should be thrown out because they are too broad and unconstitutional. The petition also called the rules “difficult, if not impossible to comply with regarding the placement of automated equipment.”

The city’s petition asked that a judge declare the rules null and void or refer them back to the Iowa Transportation Commission for further action.

The IDOT responded to the city’s claims by saying the city cannot seek judicial review until it “has exhausted all adequate administrative remedies and is aggrieved or adversely affected by any final agency action.”

Under the new policy, cities and other municipalities must submit crash data by May 1 to justify placement of cameras along state roads. Sioux City has not filed that information, and thus hasn’t been adversely affected because the agency has not ruled on any camera locations.

New Fort Madison prison nearly ready for inmates

Iowa’s new maximum-security prison in Fort Madison is nearly ready to house prisoners.

Prison officials expect to move into the new facility sometime in the next few weeks once the State Fire Marshal signs off.

But Rebecca Bowker, executive officer of the penitentiary in Fort Madison, said the moving date won’t be announced ahead of time for security reasons.

The new $132 million prison was built about a mile north of the current Iowa State Penitentiary in the southeast corner of the state. It has 800 beds, which is 250 more than the current facility.

Bowker said the move of about 600 prisoners is expected to take about a day to complete. Some equipment and furniture has already been moved.

The new prison is much larger than the existing one, and it includes more than 350 cameras to monitor prisoners.

Plans for the new prison got underway in 2005 after two inmates escaped from the current facility.

The new prison has electrified, razor-wire fencing, and the cell locks are wired to a central hub. Most of the training for prison workers has already been completed, Bowker said.

The current Iowa State Penitentiary was built in 1839 and is the oldest operating prison west of the Mississippi River.


Judge sends firefighter’s lawsuit to jury

A jury will hear the discrimination lawsuit of a former York firefighter and paramedic who was fired after breaking her foot.

District Judge John Gerrard rejected the city of York’s motion for summary judgment in the lawsuit last week, saying a jury should decide whether Lisa Peter can show that she could have returned to work before running out of leave time.

Peter sued in 2012, saying a city administrator repeatedly denied her requests for light duty after she broke her heel in a non-work-related accident in April 2010. When she was not cleared to work without restrictions after she had exhausted her sick days, vacation and federal medical leave, she was fired and replaced by a man.

Three years earlier, the same administrator cut the weekly work hours of a male York firefighter, who was hospitalized for severe pancreatitis, to ensure he would not run out of leave, her lawsuit says. The firefighter also was placed on light duty instead of fighting fires on regular 24-hour shifts.

Peter’s lawsuit says York violated federal law protecting those with disabilities and forbidding gender discrimination.

The city had argued that the discrepancy happened because the man’s illness was more serious than Peter’s injury, there was no light duty available when Peter was injured and federal law did not require the city to create a light duty position.

Gerrard rejected the city’s argument he should dismiss the lawsuit because Peter was not cleared for light duty until the end of September 2010 and could not have returned to full duty until January 2011 — well after her medical and other leave had been exhausted.

Committee advances job discrimination bill

Nebraska lawmakers could get a chance this year to debate a bill that would prohibit employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee advanced a bill that would include an exception for religious organizations, religious schools and religious colleges.

Several conservative senators are planning to fight the bill. After the committee vote last week, Sens. Beau McCoy of Omaha and Mark Christensen of Imperial each proposed 11 amendments in an attempt to kill the legislation.

Current state law prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, marital status or national origin.


District judge to retire before term ends

South Central District Judge Donald Jorgensen will resign before his term ends, after three decades behind the bench.

Jorgensen announced that he will resign July 3 rather than stay in office until the end of his term Dec. 31. Jorgenson previously had said he would not seek re-election.

Despite having some serious health problems in the past two years, Jorgensen said that is not the reason for his early departure. Instead, Jorgensen said he wants to give potential candidates for the judgeship notice before primary elections and campaigning begins. His chambers are in Linton.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple sent a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle, starting the appointment process to fill Jorgensen’s seat.

Jorgensen was born in Kenmare in 1944 and is a graduate of the University of North Dakota law school. He served in the Southwest Judicial District before transferring to the South Central district in 1995. He was first elected a district judge in 1984.

Fired oil rig worker files age discrimination suit

A California man says he lost his job on a North Dakota oil rig because his supervisor thought he was too old.

Jimmy Delap, of West Pointe, Calif., has filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Tulsa, Okla.-based Unit Drilling Company. The complaint says Delap was 62 when he was fired.

The lawsuit accuses Delap’s supervisor of making repeated public comments that Delap was too old and he wanted a young crew.


Jury picked to decide if man gets death

Lawyers have chosen a jury to decide whether a man should get the death penalty for killing a Sioux Falls woman as part of a plot to assassinate the president.

The case against 43-year-old James McVay started last week.

He pleaded guilty but mentally ill to first-degree murder for the July 2011 stabbing death of 75-year-old Maybelle Schein.

McVay was arrested in Madison, Wis., and said he killed Schein and stole her car as part of a plot to drive to Washington and assassinate the president.

Ten men and five women serve on the jury and three alternates.

They’ll decide if McVay qualifies for the death penalty and, if so, whether he deserves to die by lethal injection or spend life in prison.

Attorney General glad of new tool to fight meth

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley has applauded the Legislature and governor for approving a measure establishing electronic records of cold medicine sales to mitigate meth production.

Jackley championed the bill. The measure will become law in July. It calls for retailers who sell cold and allergy medicines with particular ingredients to enter customer information into a tracking system.

Jackley says the policy will prevent the illegal purchase of ingredients necessary for methamphetamine production while respecting customer privacy and convenience.

The number of meth labs across the state has increased due to newer and simpler means of productions, Jackley says.

There were 162 meth arrests in 2008 and 1,200 last year. This January and February South Dakota law enforcement arrested 216 with meth charges.


Court: John Doe lawsuit was properly dismissed

A northwestern Wisconsin judge properly dismissed a lawsuit alleging a Milwaukee prosecutor abused his power during a secret probe into Gov. Scott Walker’s former aides, a state appeals court ruled last week.

Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf spearheaded a so-called John Doe investigation into wrongdoing by people who worked for the governor when he was Milwaukee County executive. The probe, the state equivalent of a federal grand jury investigation where information is tightly controlled, wrapped up last year. Six people were ultimately charged on counts that included campaigning on county time and theft. Walker was not charged.

According to court documents, Landgraf issued a subpoena in September 2010 demanding Christopher Brekken, owner of a Rice Lake Harley-Davidson store, turn over credit card purchase records related to a customer whose name had been redacted. Brekken told Landgraf he didn’t have any such records and couldn’t obtain them.

Landgraf issued a warrant for Brekken’s arrest and an order requiring him to travel to Milwaukee and provide the information there.

Brekken spent a day in jail, his attorney, Michael Schwartz said. He filed suit against Landgraf in 2012, accusing Landgraf of false imprisonment and abusing his power. Barron County Judge Timothy Doyle ultimately dismissed the lawsuit in March 2013, saying Brekken failed to first file a damages claim with the state.

Brekken argued on appeal that he properly filed a claim with Milwaukee County, contending Brekken was a state employee on loan to the county.  State attorneys representing Landgraf countered that assistant prosecutors are state workers, which meant Brekken had to file a claim with the state. Statements about Landgraf’s motivations were “irrelevant subjective opinions,” they added

They also noted that Doyle remarked during the dismissal hearing that Landgraf’s actions appeared to be politically motivated. Walker is a Republican and Landgraf’s boss, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, is a Democrat.

More limited DNA collection bill up for vote

A more limited bill dealing with when DNA samples are collected from people under arrest is up for a final vote before the Wisconsin state Senate.

The measure originally called for collecting DNA from anyone arrested for a felony. But the latest version which passed the Assembly last month would restrict collection only to those people arrested for violent felonies like rape and assault.

If passed by the Senate,it will go to Gov. Scott Walker.

The DNA collection law takes effect in April 2015. It also will require DNA to be taken from anyone convicted of misdemeanors. Current law requires DNA collection only from convicted felons and sex offenders.

The DNA collected would go straight to the state crime lab, rather than be kept by local police.

Across the Region is compiled from Associated Press wire, staff reports and news releases.

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