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Across the Region: Oct. 13

IOWA

Governor: I wasn’t aware commissioner is gay

Gov. Terry Branstad and top aides have denied discriminating against a gay former state official, saying they weren’t aware of his sexual orientation when the governor asked him to resign and cut his pay.

Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and four aides signed legal affidavits last week denying assertions by former Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey that Branstad singled him out for harsh treatment because he is gay.

Godfrey is suing over what he calls the administration’s illegal attempts to force him to resign from a job in which he handled disputes between injured workers and employers. After he declined to resign, Branstad cut Godfrey’s pay by $40,000. Godfrey’s lawsuit alleges discrimination, extortion and defamation.

Godfrey’s attorney, Roxanne Conlin, said it was absurd for Branstad and others to claim ignorance that Godfrey was gay. She said Reynolds participated in meetings when she was a senator in which Godfrey’s sexual orientation came up before his confirmation, and that Godfrey had introduced his partner to Branstad and Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert at events.

Branstad’s affidavit said that he asked Godfrey, a Democrat appointed by Gov. Tom Vilsack in 2006, and 29 other appointees to resign in December 2010.

State Bar: All 72 judges should be retained

The Iowa State Bar Association says all 72 judges on the November ballot should be retained.

The association released the results of a member survey that found all 72 were well qualified, receiving high marks for their professionalism and demeanor.

More than 1,100 lawyers statewide answered questions about judges. They ranked them from very poor to excellent on questions such as their knowledge of the law and the promptness of their rulings.

A vast majority of respondents said all 70 district judges and two appeals court judges should stay in office.

More than 70 percent of the 40 lawyers who ranked Judge Emily Dean said she should be retained. The Iowa Supreme Court last month suspended her for 30 days showing up drunk to the job in 2012.

NEBRASKA

Judge dismisses lawsuit against EPA

A federal judge has dismissed Nebraska’s lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency over greenhouse gas standards for new power plants.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning filed the lawsuit in January, saying “the impossible standards imposed by the EPA will ensure no new power plants are built in Nebraska.”

The EPA’s proposed rule would set limits on the amount of carbon dioxide new plants will be allowed to emit, essentially requiring any new coal plants to install expensive carbon-capture technology.

Last week U.S. District Judge John Gerrard granted the EPA’s request for summary judgment, saying Nebraska “jumped the gun” with the lawsuit, because the EPA rule has not been finalized.

Little opposition to minimum wage rise

A proposal to increase Nebraska’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2016 has encountered little organized opposition this fall, but business groups remain wary of its effect on profits.

Voters will decide on the increase on Nov. 4. Besides affecting wages, political experts said the measure will likely help Democrats in other races by boosting voter turnout.

If the wage does pass, it is certain to increase costs for businesses. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said the only options businesses will have is to increase their prices, reduce their labor costs by cutting hours or jobs or accept a smaller profit.

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, its Omaha counterpart and other major business groups in the state have decided not to mount an organized campaign against the minimum wage proposal.

NORTH DAKOTA

Prominent Jamaican disc jockey files plea deal

A prominent Jamaican disc jockey charged for his role in a lottery scam targeting elderly victims in the Dakotas and elsewhere has filed a plea agreement in the case.

Deon-ville O’Hara, also known as ZJ Wah Wa, is among 26 people who have been indicted by a federal grand jury in North Dakota. He is charged with three counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering.

A plea agreement calls for O’Hara to plead guilty to conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison. His plea hearing is scheduled for Oct. 24 in Bismarck.

U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon says people should be on guard and discuss possible scams with elderly family members.

ATF offers reward for info in firearms theft

Federal authorities and the trade association for the firearms industry are offering a reward for information related to a theft of about five dozen firearms in Williston.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Shooting Sports Foundation are offering up to $10,000 for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of those involved in the Sept. 4 crime.

Court document show law enforcement estimate that about 50 firearms were stolen from the Napa/Myer Auto Parts store. Records show two of the stolen guns were sold to confidential informants.

Authorities have said that at least $20,000 worth of flashlights, firearm parts and accessories were also stolen from the store.

Three people have already been charged in the case.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Proposed store near tribal cemetery questioned

The Oglala Sioux Tribe wants to build a convenience store near the historic Wounded Knee Cemetery on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, but some are questioning the idea.

The cemetery is the final resting place for victims of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre, in which 300 Native American men, women and children were killed by 7th Cavalry soldiers and buried in a mass grave. The area was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1981.

Cheyenne River Sioux Historic Preservation Officer Steve Vance said the matter should be decided by all seven bands of the Sioux Nation. That would include all nine reservations in South Dakota and others in North Dakota and Canada that have descendants of victims and survivors, he said.

The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council is expected to consider the proposal this week. Historic Preservation Officer Michael Catches Enemy said his office will recommend moving the business outside of the historic landmark boundaries.

Rounds brothers say they didn’t discuss lawsuit

Former Gov. Mike Rounds’ brother oversaw the state office that dealt with lawsuits against South Dakota at the time a lawsuit was filed over the state’s handling of a program offering green cards to immigrants who invested in the state.

Whether Mike Rounds knew of the lawsuit has become an issue in his current campaign for U.S. Senate. Both brothers say that they did not discuss the 2009 breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by Darley International, which had an agreement to recruit investors in China for South Dakota projects.

Dennis Rounds also said he did not work directly for his brother, but instead reported to the commissioner for the Bureau of Administration, who reported to the governor’s chief of staff.

Mike Rounds, a Republican candidate for Senate, has been criticized by Democrats for lapses in the visa program, which has been investigated by state and federal authorities. Rounds has said that as governor he wasn’t personally aware of the Darley lawsuit.

WISCONSIN

Court: New sentence for Ivory Coast immigrant

A state appeals court says an Ivory Coast immigrant deserves a new sentence in a series of robberies because the judge improperly drew conclusions based on his origins.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Dennis Moroney sentenced Mamadou Bamba to 11 years in prison in 2013, saying Bamba should know what it feels like to be a victim because he grew up in Ivory Coast. The judge also said Bamba learned it’s acceptable to steal and intimidate in his home country.

Bamba argued on appeal that Moroney made unsupported assumptions about his character. The 1st District Court of Appeals agreed, ruling the judge’s remarks were not based on the record and weren’t rational.

A spokeswoman for the state Justice Department says the agency is considering appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Officer who left scene not immune from lawsuit

An appeals court says a Milwaukee police officer who drove away from a man who was being chased isn’t immune from a civil lawsuit.

According to court documents, Corey Flenorl was chasing Robert Jacoby in 2006 when Jacoby encountered Officer Kevin Dudley in his squad car. Jacoby’s wife had already called 911 but Dudley told him he wasn’t there in response to that call. He told Jacoby to stay there and drove away.

Dudley was fired and Jacoby sued him. A judge ruled Jacoby didn’t have an absolute duty to do more and was immune from the suit.

The 1st District Court of Appeals reversed that decision. The court ruled Dudley should have investigated and sent the case back for further proceedings.

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

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