GOP lawmakers give law firms blank check for redistricting fight
Republican lawmakers voted Thursday to hire two law firms to represent legislators in a legal fight over redistricting, a potentially expensive move on an issue that has already cost taxpayers millions.
The Assembly and Senate’s organization committees both voted to hire Chicago-based Kirkland and Ellis and Madison-based Bell Giftos St. John.
The hiring was approved on party-line votes, with majority Republicans brushing aside Democrats’ complaints that the hires are a waste of taxpayer money. Democrats also complained about a vote that took place behind closed doors by paper ballot.
It’s unclear how much hiring the law firms might cost. The committee ballots made no mention of costs or limiting the firms’ expenses.
A dozen voters filed a federal lawsuit in 2015 challenging the Republican-drawn maps, contending they unconstitutionally consolidated GOP power and discriminated against Democrats. A three-judge panel agreed with the voters in November and last month ordered the Legislature to redraw the maps.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican, is preparing to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. He’s representing the state Elections Commission, but not the legislators. Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said Republicans want their own lawyers so they’ll have a say in the appeal.
She said the firms will be asked to draft a friend-of-the-court brief urging the justices to overturn the three-judge panel’s decision.
The long-running legal battle over redistricting has cost the state at least $2.1 million so far. Those costs stem from a separate lawsuit Democrats and immigrant rights group Voces de la Frontera filed in 2011. That lawsuit resulted in a panel of federal judges ordering two Assembly districts in Milwaukee be adjusted because the lines unfairly weakened Hispanics’ voting rights.
Ex-deputy marshal convicted of peeping
A former deputy U.S. marshal has been convicted of spying on Bismarck women as they undressed in store dressing rooms.
Michael Rivera, 29, was found guilty of misdemeanors including surreptitious intrusion and creating and attempting to create sexually expressive images, but found not guilty of more serious felony charges. He was cleared of 11 charges related to minors in the case.
The mother of one minor victim said she was disappointed.
“I am very saddened by the verdict but I believe the jurors did the very best they could with what they had to work with,” she said. “The law is very poorly written, and minors can be horribly exploited because of North Dakota laws.”
The jury didn’t find the behavior as lewd, because the minors were in fitting rooms, said Assistant State’s Attorney Julie Lawyer. She said the jury seemed to struggle with the definition of sexual conduct. The case could possibly lead to changes to the law in the future, Lawyer said.
Rivera will also be sentenced in a federal court for attempted receipt of materials involving sexual exploitation of minors, and could face a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Prosecutor ousted for sex harassment appeals judge’s ruling
A former Van Buren county attorney has appealed a judge’s decision to remove him from office.
Abraham Watkins was ousted last month after Judge James Drew ruled that Watkins had violated rules that bar Iowa attorneys from committing sexual harassment as part of their practices. Watkins was accused of commenting on female employees’ breasts, making other sexual comments and dressing inappropriately in the office.
The Van Buren County Board of Supervisors had filed misconduct charges against Watkins, who was elected county attorney in November 2014.
The Hawk Eye reports that the Iowa Supreme Court could decide to hear the case itself or pass it to the Court of Appeals, a process that could take several months.
Hospital sued for negligence over diluted painkillers
Attorneys for nine patients have filed a lawsuit against Iowa Methodist Medical Center, blaming the hospital for a pharmacy tech’s theft of potent painkillers from hundreds of vials.
The lawsuit accuses the hospital of being negligent in its supervision of the pharmacy tech who stole fentanyl and Dilaudid during a six-week period last year, the Des Moines Register reported. The tech used a syringe to remove drugs from the vials and replace it with saline. The tech was fired Oct. 7 and the thefts reported to law enforcement, hospital officials said.
The hospital contacted more than 700 patients last October after learning of the tampering, fearing the patients might not have received full doses of the drugs.
Attorneys for the patients on Friday said there are 185 former patients whose pain medication was diluted who are willing to sue. More are expected to join the lawsuit in the coming weeks, said Courtney Rowley, a lawyer for the patients.
Hospital spokeswoman Amy Varcoe denied several allegations in the lawsuit on Friday, including the charge that patients suffered extreme pain during the period of the medication thefts. Although pain medicine was diluted, she said, no patients during that period reported suffering from extreme pain.
But one of the suing patients, Des Moines police officer Dusty Chapline, said when she gave birth to her daughter in September at the hospital, she had to receive a second epidural after the first was ineffective, causing some of the “worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”
Two other patients believe they contracted hepatitis C at the hospital during the time of the thefts. The liver infection can be spread through use of dirty needles.