Iowa Supreme Court to hear arguments in 10 cases Wednesday and Thursday

by Rox Laird | October 18, 2021

The Iowa Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in 10 appeals Oct. 20 and 21. Another four cases will be submitted to the Court without argument.

Following are summaries of 12 of those cases. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read briefs in these appeals.


In the matter of the guardianship of L.Y.

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 20, 9 a.m.

Issue: Does a mother’s constitutionally protected liberty interest in having custody of her child prevail over her child’s continued placement with guardians?

G.Y. and K.Y seek further review of a May 26 Iowa Court of Appeals ruling reversing and remanding the Story County District Court’s termination of the guardianship of L.Y., a minor who has lived with the appellants since birth. The child’s mother, S.W., now seeks custody of her daughter. In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals applied Iowa’s guardianship statute, Iowa Code section 232D.203, as amended in 2020, and concluded termination of L.Y. ‘s guardianship would do significant harm to the child and thus outweigh her mother’s interest in termination. S.W. argues that the amended guardianship statute is unconstitutional on its face and as applied in her case, citing a 1917 Iowa Supreme Court decision that said: “Recognition of what is for the best interest of the child will seldom interfere with the natural rights of the parent to the custody thereof, and never unless essential to its welfare or for the good of society.” The Court in determining what is harmful to a child has since required proof that the parent is unfit to constitutionally justify continuation of guardianship. S.W. argues there is no evidence she is unfit to parent her child and there is no risk of harm to L.Y. by terminating her guardianship.

An amicus curiae brief was filed with the Court in this case by Iowa Legal Aid on behalf of its client who similarly is seeking to terminate her child’s guardianship, which is pending before the Iowa Court of Appeals. An amicus brief was filed by the Iowa Guardianship and Conservatorship Association in support of the appellants.


Klein v. Iowa Public Information Board

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 20, 9 a.m.

Issue: Did plaintiff seeking police documents related to a police officer’s fatal shooting of a Burlington woman fail to exhaust administrative remedies before the Iowa Public Information Board?

Adam Klein appeals the Polk County District Court’s dismissal of his petition for judicial review of final action by the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) under the Administrative Procedure Act regarding police records related to a Burlington police officer’s fatal shooting of Burlington resident Autumn Steele. The IPIB initiated a contested case proceeding alleging the Burlington Police Department and Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation violated Iowa Code Chapter 22, the Iowa Public Records Act, by withholding certain law enforcement videos and documents related to the shooting. An administrative law judge issued a proposed decision in support of the IPIB allegation but the board, following a change in membership, rejected the ALJ recommendation, concluding that the disputed police records are confidential and exempt from disclosure under the records law. In dismissing Klein’s petition for judicial review, the District Court held that Klein failed to exhaust administrative remedies by failing to intervene in the IPIB’s contested case proceeding, and that he lacked standing. Klein, a Georgia attorney representing the Steele family, urges the Supreme Court to reverse the District Court and remand for proceedings on the merits of his petition.


State v. Thoren

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 20, 9 a.m.

Issue: Should evidence from a Board of Massage Therapy investigation have been allowed into evidence against a massage therapist accused of sexual assault?

Kevin Thoren, who was convicted by a Polk County jury of third-degree sexual abuse, seeks further review of a March 17 Iowa Court of Appeals decision affirming the District Court’s admission of testimony from an Iowa Board of Massage Therapy investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Thoren, his subsequent self-surrender of his massage therapist license, and testimony from previous clients alleging similar incidents of improper sexual contact. The sexual assault charge was filed about six weeks after Thoren surrendered his license. Thoren argues the Massage Therapy Board’s agency action carried a lower burden of proof than a criminal finding of sexual abuse. And Thoren argues that testimony from his past massage clients who reported sexual misconduct should not have been admitted because some testimony was prejudicial and more than a decade old.


State v. Lilly

Set for oral argument Oct. 20, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Was an African-American defendant denied a fair trial because there were no African-Americans on his jury or the venire from which jurors were picked?

Kenneth Lilly appeals a decision by the North Lee County District Court rejecting his claim that the jury picked for his criminal trial was not drawn from a fair cross-section of the community as required by the U.S. and Iowa constitutions. Lilly is African-American. There were no African-Americans on his jury or the pool from which it was picked. This is Lilly’s second appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court on the question of the racial makeup of his jury. The Court in 2019 conditionally affirmed Lilly’s conviction for aiding and abetting a bank robbery, but because the Court in the meantime revised its standard for calculating jury balance established in State v. Plain (2017), it sent the case back to consider Lilly’s jury-composition argument under the Supreme Court’s revised standard and to hold a new trial if a constitutional violation occurred. The District Court subsequently ruled that Lilly failed to establish an unfair or unreasonable level of underrepresentation of African-Americans on his jury, and that he failed to prove a systematic exclusion of African-Americans from jury pools in Lee County.

An amicus curiae brief in support of Lilly was submitted to the Court by the NAACP urging the Court to reverse the District Court and order a new trial.


State v. Plain

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 20, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Was an African-American defendant denied a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment when he was convicted by an all-white jury?

Kelvin Plain Sr. appeals a decision by the Black Hawk County District Court rejecting his argument that his constitutional right to a jury drawn from a fair cross section of the community was violated. Plain, an African-American, was convicted by an all-white jury of first-degree harassment. This is Plain’s second appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court from his conviction. In the first, the Court in 2017 conditionally affirmed his conviction but remanded the case to the District Court for development of his challenge to a fair trial under the Sixth Amendment using the Court’s revised standard for calculating jury balance. The trial court on remand denied Plain’s motion for a new trial, finding that he failed to show that African-American representation in the pool from which his jury was picked was unfair or unreasonable, and it found that Plain failed to establish that any underrepresentation was caused by systematic exclusion or was due to Black Hawk County’s juror-selection process. Plain urges the Supreme Court to reverse his conviction and remand for a new trial.

An amicus curiae brief in support of Plain was filed with the Court by the NAACP urging the Court to reverse the District Court and hold that Plain is entitled to a new trial.


State v. Wilson

To be submitted to the Court Oct. 20 without oral argument.

Issue: Did a suspect commit a new crime by resisting arrest even if police officers illegally entered her apartment without a warrant?

Edna Jean Wilson seeks further review of the Iowa Court of Appeals’ March 17 ruling affirming her conviction in Story County District Court for interference with official acts and possession of cocaine. The Court of Appeals held that while Ames police officers may have made an illegal warrantless entry into Wilson’s apartment, their subsequent discovery of an illegal drug was admissible in court under the “new crime exception” to the exclusionary rule because when Wilson resisted arrest she created probable cause that she was committing a new crime. Wilson argues that the Court of Appeals erred in its application of the new-crime exception, because resisting arrest requires resistance to an act that is “within the scope of the lawful duty or authority” of the arresting officer. Wilson argues the officers were not performing a “lawful duty” when they entered her apartment without a warrant. Moreover, she argues, she did not actively interfere with her arrest and her actions did not amount to interference with official acts. Wilson urges the Court to re-examine the “new crimes” exception as applied to her case, which allows police officers to “reap the fruits of illegally entering someone’s home should the resident put up the slightest resistance. The new crimes exception fails to deter police misconduct and may actually encourage officers to escalate their interactions with suspects to provoke a response that will allow them to conduct a subsequent arrest and search.”


State v. Jones

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 21, 9 a.m.

Issue: Did law officers have direct evidence that a bag with drugs had been in the defendant’s possession?

The State seeks further review of the Iowa Court of Appeals’ Oct. 7, 2020, decision reversing and remanding Michael Jones’ conviction by a Clay County jury of possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute and possession of marijuana. Jones was arrested by Clay County deputies who observed a bag later discovered to contain drugs and drug paraphernalia on the road in front of Jones’ truck. The deputies believed Jones dropped the bag after checking on a car in the ditch belonging to a friend and then seeing a law enforcement vehicle pull up behind his truck. The Court of Appeals held that the evidence was insufficient to convict due to the lack of direct evidence connecting Jones to the bag. The State argues that the jury could infer Jones had had possession of the bag based on his movement in front of his truck, the dry condition of the bag found on the wet road, and a card in the bag linking it to a friend of Jones known by authorities to be a methamphetamine user.


State v. Davison

Set for oral argument Oct. 21, 9 a.m.

Issue: Did a trial court’s $150,000 restitution order violate the defendant’s due process rights?

Caesar Davison appeals from a Des Moines County jury verdict finding him guilty of assault causing serious injury and conspiracy to commit murder. Davison was in a conspiracy to fatally shoot an Iowa man in Burlington. Davison argues the District Court violated his right to due process by imposing a restitution award under Iowa Code section 910.3B(1) that requires $150,000 in restitution “In all criminal cases in which the offender is convicted of a felony in which the act or acts committed by the offender caused the death of another person . . . .” Davison was convicted of offenses that did not include a finding that the defendant caused the death of another person. The question of whether Davison’s act was the proximate cause of the death of the victim was not submitted to the jury, and he argues that without such a finding by a jury the imposition of the $150,000 was a violation of his due process rights.


Putnam v. Walther

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument Oct. 21.

Issue: Did a home buyer suing the sellers for failure to disclose water problems fail to properly designate an expert to testify regarding the cause of the problem?

Danielle Putnam seeks further review of a Dec. 16, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals ruling affirming the Black Hawk County District Court’s ruling dismissing on summary judgment Putnam’s suit against Shawn and Amy Walther for failing to disclose water infiltration in the basement of a home Putnam purchased from the Walthers. The District Court held that because Putnam failed to formally designate an expert to testify regarding the cause of water damage to the house and the cost of correcting the problem, it granted summary judgment to the Walthers. Putnam argues that for purposes of Iowa Code Chapter 558A, Iowa’s Real Estate Disclosures Act, the District Court should have admitted a report she obtained from a contractor she hired to assess water damage to her basement and the cost of repairs.


State v. Lacey

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 21, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Should a trial court have postponed sentencing of a defendant convicted on one count of a multi-count indictment until after retrial on other counts on which the jury deadlocked?

Latrice L. Lacey appeals her conviction by a Scott County jury of second-degree harassment. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on three other domestic assault counts. Among other things, Lacey argues the trial court erred in proceeding to sentencing on the one count before a verdict is returned on the other three counts on retrial, or they are dismissed. The Supreme Court issued an order directing Lacey to include that issue with her appeal on the merits of her conviction on that count. Lacey argues that besides saving appellate courts successive appeals in the same case, new evidence could emerge at retrial that could affect the verdict or sentence in the case that resulted in a verdict. On the merits, Lacey argues her conviction should be reversed because the state failed to produce sufficient evidence of guilt, and because the trial court excluded evidence favorable to Lacey.


Sothman v. State

Scheduled for oral argument Oct. 21, 1:30 p.m.

Issue: Was a defendant’s guilty plea invalid because it was based on misinformation from her trial counsel regarding how quickly she would be considered for parole?

Anna Sothman seeks further review of an Oct. 21, 2020, Iowa Court of Appeals Ruling affirming the Marion County District Court’s dismissal of her application for post-conviction relief. Sothman pleaded guilty to child endangerment, admitting that she left her 14-month-old daughter in the bathtub unattended and the child drowned. Sothman claims her trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by misinforming her that because she would be immediately eligible for parole once in prison following her 50-year sentence she would be considered for parole within six to 12 months. Because a death was involved, however, Sothman may not be given true consideration for parole for 16 years or more. As a result, Sothman argues her guilty plea was not knowing and voluntary. Sothman also argues that her trial counsel was ineffective for not asserting her right to have the plea proceedings conducted in open court. Sothman did not voluntarily waive the right to a public guilty plea; instead, the judge moved the parties into chambers.


State v. Watson

Will be submitted to the Court without oral argument Oct. 21.

Issue: Should OWI and drug charges be dismissed because the State missed the speedy-indictment deadline?

Brianna Watson appeals the Chickasaw County District Court’s denial of her motion to dismiss the State’s case against her on charges of driving while intoxicated and possession of marijuana. Watson claims in her interlocutory appeal that the State failed to file its criminal indictment within 45 days as required by Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure. Watson argues that the speedy-indictment clock was set when the sheriff’s deputy issued a citation in lieu of arrest on July 5, 2020. The State filed its trial information three months later, on Oct. 6, 2020. The State argues the speedy-indictment clock began running when Watson made her initial appearance in court on Sept. 21, 2020. Watson argues that the State cannot cite the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse for missing the deadline because the Supreme Court already extended the deadline by 15 days.



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