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Across the Region: Oct. 20


Court dismisses Frank Lloyd Wright furniture suit

Home products giant SC Johnson reached a settlement with a California man in a dispute over ownership of a desk and chair designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but the private terms of the deal mean it’s not clear who will end up with the distinctive and valuable furniture.

SC Johnson, which is based south of Milwaukee in Racine, sued Sotheby’s auction house and Thomas Figge, of California, after the auction house listed the furniture for sale in 2013.

Wright designed SC Johnson’s Administration Building in the 1930s and created furnishings for it. The desk made of enameled steel and American black walnut has horizontal “speed” lines that give it a distinctive, streamlined look, according to court documents. It is painted a deep red and has rounded drawers that swing outward in a cascade. The blue upholstery on the accompanying chair indicates it was used in the company’s records department, the documents said.

The chair and desk were among multiple copies produced for SC Johnson. The company said in its lawsuit that it hasn’t sold or loaned any items designed by Wright except in a few, well-documented cases to museums. It said it had no record of a gift to the people named in the ownership history provided by Sotheby’s, believed the items rightfully belonged to SC Johnson and wanted them returned.

Court documents show the lawsuit was dismissed Oct. 8 because a settlement had been reached. The terms weren’t disclosed.


Agency dismisses complaint against AG candidate Happ

The state Office of Lawyer Regulation has dismissed an alleged sexual assault victim’s claims that Democratic attorney general hopeful Susan Happ let her attacker off too easily because he bought Happ’s house.

The OLR sent a letter to Happ last week saying the office had confirmed Happ properly recused herself from Daniel Reynolds’ case and it appears Happ did not violate any ethical rules. The letter is a boost for Happ’s campaign. Her Republican opponent, Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, and conservative groups have been hammering Happ for weeks on the case.

Happ currently serves as Jefferson County district attorney. This past March her office agreed to defer prosecuting Reynolds for allegedly sexually assaulting a teenage girl if he agreed to monitoring and evaluations, according to court documents. Land records show Reynolds finished buying Happ’s house for $180,000 in December 2012, five months before he was charged.

The alleged victim sent a complaint to the OLR in early September saying Happ’s relationship with Reynolds benefited Happ financially and amounted to a conflict of interest. The woman said she wanted Reynolds to at least get probation, register as a sex offender and pay for her counseling.


Minimum-security inmates move to lockup unit

More than 170 minimum-security inmates at the John Bennett Unit at the Iowa State Penitentiary complex packed their belongings and boarded buses last week. Their destination: 400 yards down the road to their new home, the Clinical Care Unit, built in 2001 at a cost of $26 million to house 200 of the most dangerous inmates with mental illness and behavioral problems.

Prison workers have spent several weeks transforming it into a minimum-security environment, removing locks from secure doors and adding a larger visiting room. Inmates who used to sleep in open rooms filled with up to 50 bunks at John Bennett were moving into their small, mostly single cells with their own bathrooms.

Inmates will love their new privacy — but miss the large recreation yard they enjoyed at John Bennett, prison officials said.

Prison officials said the move makes sense, noting that the state has a shortage of minimum-security beds and that John Bennett needed expensive structural repairs to remain open.

The move is part of a wide-ranging — at times rocky — restructuring of Iowa’s prisons.


High court rejects senator’s defamation case

The Supreme Court has declined to revive a defamation lawsuit that an Iowa Republican state senator filed against his Democratic opponent over a misleading campaign ad.

Last week the justices let stand the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision dismissing state Sen. Rick Bertrand’s lawsuit.

Bertrand said Democrat Rick Mullin and the Iowa Democratic Party had libeled and slandered him in a TV ad run before the November 2010 election that Bertrand won. The ad said Bertrand’s employer sold “a dangerous sleep drug to children.”

A jury in 2012 agreed with Bertrand that the ad falsely suggested he personally sold the drug and awarded him $231,000 in damages.

The Iowa court ruled that the ad’s false implication may have been negligence, but wasn’t a “reckless disregard for the truth.”


Court upholds Iowa man’s convictions

The Nebraska Court of Appeals has upheld the manslaughter, weapons and drug-dealing convictions of an Iowa man.

Corey Brooks, of Council Bluffs, was sentenced last year to a minimum of 56 years in prison for the convictions, including his role in the September 2011 shooting death James Asmus, 50.

Asmus was found shot to death in a south Omaha garage. Prosecutors say a plan by Asmus to rob Brooks prompted the shooting.

Brooks appealed, arguing that the trial judge should not have allowed his statements to police to be admitted into evidence. He also argued that his trial attorney was ineffective.

The appeals court found Brooks’ arguments were without merit.


Court hears water dispute between Kansas, Nebraska

The U.S. Supreme Court considered how to resolve a long-running legal fight between Kansas and Nebraska over the use of water from the Republican River last week.

The justices appeared to agree with recommendations of a special master who found that Nebraska should pay $3.7 million in damages to Kansas for using more than its legal share of the river’s water in 2005 and 2006.

But they were more doubtful about making Nebraska pay a $1.8 million penalty that exceeds Kansas’ actual damages. The justices also seemed skeptical of the special master’s suggestion that the court could change a formula for measuring water consumption. Nebraska claims the formula is unfair.

Since 1999, Kansas has complained that Nebraska uses more than its fair share of water from the Republican River, which originates in Colorado and runs mostly through Nebraska before ending in Kansas. The dispute centers on a 1943 compact that allocates 49 percent of the river’s water to Nebraska, 40 percent to Kansas and 11 percent to Colorado.

Legal disputes between states are filed directly with the Supreme Court, which typically appoints a special master to consider the evidence and make recommendations to the justices.


Fired Minot city attorney files federal lawsuit

Minot’s former city attorney who was fired last spring has filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the city, its attorneys and two credit reporting agencies violated her privacy by not properly protecting her personal credit report.

Colleen Auer is seeking $1,000 in damages for each violation of federal credit law, along with other unspecified damages.

The Bismarck law firm representing Minot — Smith, Bakke, Porsborg, Schweigert and Armstrong — has not yet responded to the lawsuit Auer filed Oct. 7 but said earlier that she signed an authorization form allowing a credit history search and that her privacy was not violated, according to the Minot Daily News.

Auer was fired May 2 after only about a month on the job for alleged insubordination. She earlier filed grievances with the state Labor Department and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for alleged harassment and wrongful termination, asking to be reinstated.

She also has filed a whistleblower complaint with the Labor Department alleging she was fired for refusing to follow orders that she believed broke the law. Auer claims she was asked to do unlawful things regarding contracts and documents and was fired and publicly humiliated when she refused.


Judge orders NDSU students to write pro-UND essays

A judge has ordered two North Dakota State University students to write essays praising the University of North Dakota.

The students were caught on last week tinkering with a sign on the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center. Authorities say a third student was also involved.

Judge Lee Christofferson ordered Kyle Mason, 21, and William Ogdahl, 22, to write a two-page report on “why UND is a good school.” The students must file the essays with the clerk’s office in Grand Forks no later than Nov. 1.

The two students had pleaded guilty to refusing to halt after UND Police officers caught them fleeing the area near the center. Records show police that night responded to a report of a group of people vandalizing the sign.


Fed judge overturns murder conviction

A federal judge has dismissed the murder conviction of a South Dakota man in a case in which the victim died nearly two years after being beaten.

A death must happen within a year and a day in order to constitute a punishable homicide, Judge Charles Kornmann said in his ruling.

“I felt strongly that higher courts should address this very important issue,” Kornmann wrote.

Stoney End Of Horn, 36, of Wakpala, was convicted in September in federal court in Pierre of second-degree murder for the fatal beating of Pauline Brave Crow. Prosecutors said Brave Crow suffered injuries to her face and brain in September 2008, and died in June 2010 after spending four months in a Mandan, North Dakota, hospital due to complications caused by the beating.

End of Horn also was convicted on unrelated counts of sexually abusing a minor. He is to be sentenced in December.


Tribe to vote on tribal national park plan

The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council has decided to allow tribal members to vote on a proposed tribal national park in southwestern South Dakota, after months of controversy.

Tribal officials have been working with the National Park Service on a plan to turn the South Unit of Badlands National Park and surrounding grassland into the nation’s first tribal national park, and to introduce a herd of buffalo.

Opponents have argued that the plan threatens the sanctity of sacred land near the Black Hills and also the ranching way of life of the people who live there and have had their land passed down through generations. Some affected ranchers and landowners have sued in tribal court.

The Tribal Council earlier this month rescinded a 2013 resolution that evicted some ranchers from grazing land in the area. A vote will be held within three months on whether to continue working with the Park Service on the creation of the park.

The Park Service is sorting out the Tribal Council’s actions, said a spokesperson.

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