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Across the Region: Oct. 6


EPA: Pipe company had violations at facility

Environmental officials say a pipe company must pay $950,000 for air and water violations at its former Council Bluffs facility.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 7 says Griffin Pipe Products must pay the civil penalty after multiple violations.

The company is accused of illegally discharging untreated process wastewater to the city’s wastewater collection system between 2007 and 2008. It is also accused of violating its storm water permit in 2011. The EPA says the company also discharged zinc, lead, copper and other pollutants in violation of its permit levels.

Griffin Pipe Products has ceased production at the Council Bluff facility. It says it is now in compliance with the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.


Pretrial conference delayed for former mayor

A pretrial conference has been delayed for a former Iowa mayor accused of sexual abuse.

The date for Jason Manus’ pretrial conference was pushed back to Oct. 13 because his defense attorney died earlier this month. His trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 22.

Court records do not indicate whether a new lawyer has been assigned to defend Manus.

The 36-year-old Manus is charged with five counts of second-degree sexual abuse. He is accused of sexually abusing a 9-year-old girl and a 14-year-old girl in 2010. He has pleaded not guilty.

Manus was mayor of Oelwein until his resignation in August.


Dispute over Nebraska bar association dues settled

A dispute over mandatory dues charged by the Nebraska State Bar Association ended last week with the settlement of a federal lawsuit that questioned whether those dues were constitutional.

State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha had sued the association in 2012, saying he believed the roughly $300 annual dues were improper because some of the money was used for political activities such as lobbying.

Lautenbaugh had said lawyers, like himself, shouldn’t be forced to help pay for lobbying to help pass a measure they might oppose.

The association said that the issue was resolved by a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling last year. That decision restricted mandatory dues to only those activities needed to regulate the legal profession, such as maintaining records, mandating continuing education for lawyers, and enforcing the ethical rules of attorneys.

The association’s mandatory fees dropped to $98 in January for most lawyers. Nebraska lawyers must pay those mandatory fees each year to remain in good standing.

The association said in a statement that money from voluntary dues will support all of the group’s lobbying activities and programs like legal self-help desks, legal mentoring programs and a program that helps place lawyers in rural areas.

The settlement requires Lautenbaugh’s 2013 dues and his legal expenses of less than $5,000 to be paid.

The association said earlier this month that the change in its dues cut its revenue by $600,000 to about $1.2 million. Officials said that two out of every five members paid only the mandatory $98 membership dues.


Dodge County moving closer to ‘virtual courthouse’

The days of a “virtual courthouse” are rolling closer as the Dodge County Assessor prepares to launch a new multi-faceted geographic information service website.

The Schneider Corporation’s Beacon software is popular in Iowa and other Midwestern states, but Dodge County is the company’s first foothold in Nebraska’s GIS market.

The site will be linked to the county’s main site, dodgecounty.ne.gov, and initially include only the assessor’s office, but county leaders envision broader use of Beacon to eventually include all county offices, and possibly agencies outside of county government.

Other county offices, including the register of deeds, county clerk, treasurer, roads and zoning will likely be included.

Voting districts and polling places, school districts, fire districts, tax status of individual properties, roads and bridges, could be some of the information ultimately accessible on the site.


Student changes plea in high school gun incident

A former Mandan High School student accused of bringing a loaded gun to school has changed his plea to guilty to two of four charges.

Todd Miller, 18, pleaded guilty to accomplice to reckless endangerment and carrying a concealed weapon. A judge dismissed the other two charges.

The school was put in lockdown in May when police received a tip that a student had brought a gun to school. Police said they found the gun on Miller.

In court last week the prosecutor said the old, rusty revolver wasn’t loaded when it was seized.

Miller faces up to six years in prison.

A 16-year-old boy also was arrested in the incident. His case is being handled in juvenile court, where proceedings aren’t open to the public.


Bank robber asks to be moved into halfway house

A Tucson, Arizona, man who pleaded guilty to robbing a North Dakota bank last spring is asking to be moved from jail to a halfway house before sentencing.

Sean Nichols pleaded guilty last week to holding up the Dakota Community Bank in Bismarck on May 6. Authorities say he took nearly $7,000 from the Bismarck bank. All but about $1,700 was recovered.

Defense attorneys say Nichols has shown good behavior since he was arrested and being placed in a halfway house would allow him work release privileges to help pay back the money.

The government is opposed to the motion. Prosecutors say Nichols should be considered a career offender and they will be asking for a prison term of at least 12 years.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 26.


Woman who killed daughter wants photos barred

A Huron woman who stabbed her 3-year-old daughter to death 27 years ago wants future parole boards barred from viewing autopsy and crime scene photos.

Mark Marshall, a lawyer for Debra Jenner, has raised constitutional questions about the right of an inmate to a fair and impartial hearing in a federal lawsuit seeking an order barring the viewing of the photos.

Jenner, 58, was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1987 death of her daughter, Abby. She has been denied parole 15 times since then-Gov. Bill Janklow in 2003 commuted her sentence from life in prison to 100 years in exchange for Jenner’s admission of guilt. Her next parole hearing is in May 2015.

Former Beadle County Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Sheridan put the photos in the file of Jenner, who authorities say stabbed Abby 72 times with a toy metal airplane and kitchen knife.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said the photos were part of the court record and ought to be available to future parole board members.


Police officer now sole defendant in landfill suit

A Rapid City police officer is the only remaining defendant in a lawsuit filed by a former landfill worker two years ago.

Chief U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Viken this week removed Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker, former police chief Steve Allender and former landfill supervisor John Leahy as defendants in the lawsuit filed by former city employee Randall Meidinger.

Lt. Peter Ragnone is the remaining defendant.

Meidinger sued the city after a Pennington County jury acquitted him of grand theft charges stemming from a grand jury indictment. Meidinger was fired in 2009 after an interview with Ragnone.

Meidinger claims Ragnone’s actions violated his rights to privacy and protection from the use of false evidence.

Viken’s ruling upheld the recommendations of a federal magistrate judge.


Milwaukee school settles discrimination claim

The U.S. Justice Department says Milwaukee Montessori School will pay $55,000 to settle a claim that the school discriminated against a disabled student.

The department alleged the private day school failed to accommodate and then “impermissibly disenrolled” a young child because he stumbled and fell “more frequently than his peers.”

In a statement, headmistress Monica Van Aken says the school maintains it did not discriminate against the student but was concerned about the child’s safety.

Under the agreement, the school will pay $50,000 in compensatory damages to the child and his parents, and will pay a civil penalty of $5,000.

The school says it already has a nondiscrimination policy and does not discriminate, but decided it was in the school’s best interest to move forward and settle the claim.


Woman accuses billionaire of assault

A second woman has accused Racine billionaire Samuel Curtis Johnson III of sexual assault.

The woman filed a civil lawsuit in Racine County in July alleging Johnson sexually assaulted her several times while she was on vacation with Johnson’s family in Mexico and the Bahamas and while she was at Johnson’s home between March 2007 and July 2009.

The lawsuit said the woman, who now lives in California, was a minor who lived in Racine when the assaults allegedly occurred. Johnson inflicted so much psychological and emotional distress that she will need mental health treatment and counseling “on a permanent basis,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and attorney fees.

Johnson’s attorney, Michael F. Hart, called the allegations baseless, saying the woman tried to convince the Racine County district attorney to charge Johnson in 2011 but he refused.

The 59-year-old Johnson’s family has run home-products giant SC Johnson for five generations. Johnson is the former chairman of Sturtevant-based Diversey Inc., a company once owned by the family that founded SC Johnson. He resigned from Diversey’s board in February 2011.

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