April 26, 2015

Iowa’s governor signs visitation law inspired by Casey Kasem case

Kerri Kasem, on governor’s left, and Misty Davis, on right at bill signing.

Kerri Kasem, on governor’s left, and Misty Davis, on right at bill signing.

Iowa has passed a groundbreaking law that gives family members a new legal avenue to use if they’re blocked from seeing a relative who is incapacitated.

The law is inspired by the case of Casey Kasem, the legendary radio DJ who was host of “America’s Top 40.” Kerri Kasem, his oldest daughter, was at the Iowa capitol this afternoon (Friday) to watch Governor Branstad sign the bill into law.

“My dad would probably still be alive today if we had this bill in California,” Kasem said.

Casey Kasem, who died last June, suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Kasem’s wife, Jean, refused to let his children from a previous marriage see their father. Jean Kasem moved the radio legend out of a Santa Monica hospital last May and took him to the Seattle area, where he died a month later. Then she took his body first to Montreal, then Oslo, where it sat in a freezer for months until he was buried in an unmarked grave shortly before Christmas.

“This is a silent epidemic. There are so many abuses of guardianships and so many abuses of caretakers,” Kerri Kasem said. “…We have seen thousands of cases of isolation — thousands — and it’s legal. And all of the laws are on the abusers side and there is nothing you can do.”

The new Iowa law would allow relatives in a situation like Kasem’s to ask a judge to enforce visitation rights. Twenty-nine-year-old Misty Davis of Cedar Rapids hasn’t been able to see her step-brother, Jim Davis, who lives in Washington. Her step-mother — as the legal guardian for James — will not let Misty or anyone from her late husband’s family see Jim, who has an intellectual disability.

“I last saw him approximately two months ago,” Davis said today. “I get told by people where he’s at and I’ll show up randomly if it’s a public place and then within five minutes I’m kicked out or threatened with the law.”

The new law that would help Davis seek to enforce visitation rights goes into effect July 1. Until then, Davis has a list of what her stepbrother is missing: “memories, love, attention, respect, family.”

The last time Davis saw her stepbrother for an extended period of time was when they sat next to one another at their father’s funeral in January of 2013.

Supreme Court dismisses wrongful imprisonment claim by former Davis County coach

GavelThe Iowa Supreme Court says a former coach who had his sexual exploitation charge thrown out was not “wrongfully imprisoned.” Patrick Nicoletto was convicted of sexual exploitation by a school employee in 2012 after it was revealed he had a relationship with a 16-year-old student while serving as an assistant high school basketball coach for the Davis County Community School District.

The Iowa Supreme Court later overturned his conviction, saying Nicoletto was not a licensed teacher, and his coaching authorization was not covered under the sexual exploitation law. Nicoletto had bonded out of the county jail and never served any of his 5-year sentence — but filed suit after the sentence was overturned — saying he was wrongfully imprisoned.

The Iowa Supreme Court says the law requires a person to spend time in a state penitentiary, not a county jail, to get damages for wrongful imprisonment, and it dismissed Nicoletto’s lawsuit.

A bill addressing the first Supreme Court decision in Nicoletto’s case that would expand Iowa law so any school employee or volunteer at a school activity can be charged with sexual exploitation of a student is pending in the legislature. Under current Iowa law licensed teachers, administrators and counselors can be charged with that crime.


Escape from Madison County Courthouse costs Earlham man prison time

GavelAn Earlham man who took a deputy’s gun and fled during a court appearance is now facing some time in federal prison. Thirty-year-old Cory Lee Daugherty was brought to the Madison County Courthouse in March of 2014 to be sentenced on a felony drug charge.

Daugherty was sentenced to 10 years in prison and then started struggling with the deputy who tried to take him into custody. Daugherty grabbed the deputy’s gun and fled the courthouse — and was free for a short time before being caught. He later pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Daugherty was sentenced to 77 months in federal prison on the firearm charge, which he will have to serve on top of the 10-year sentence for the drug charge.


Waterloo casino won’t have to pay big slot jackpot to Illinois grandmother

GavelThe Iowa Supreme Court has ruled a grandmother from Illinois cannot collect 41-million-dollar bonus from a Black Hawk County slot machine. Pauline McKee went to the Isle Casino and Hotel in Waterloo in July of 2011 following a family reunion. She sat down next to her daughter and began to play a penny slot machine called Miss Kitty.

McKee, who was then 87, wagered 25 cents on one spin and the screen said she’d won $1.85. A message appeared at the same time that said she’d also won a bonus of 41 million dollars. An investigation by the casino and the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission determined the bonus message was in error, and the rules listed on the machine did not include such a bonus.

The district court threw out McKee’s lawsuit. The Iowa Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling, saying there was no promise of a bonus given in the rules of the game, so the casino did not break a promise to pay out the bonus.

Here’s the full ruling: Waterloo casino ruling PDF


Senator Ernst praises passage of bill against human trafficking

Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst.

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst is praising the passage of a bill designed to help law enforcement prosecute human traffickers. “The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act also provides much need support to the victims of this, what I consider modern-day slavery,” Ernst says. “It also enhances law enforcement’s ability to bring these perpetrators to justice and brings forward stiffer penalties for criminals.”

The trafficking bill was approved in the Senate this week on a vote of 99-0. “This marks an important step to combat the spread of human and sex trafficking,” Ernst says. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to the human rights crisis happening across the country.”

In addition to the law enforcement tools and victims’ fund, the legislation qualifies child pornography production as a form of human trafficking and creates a Human Trafficking Advisory Council composed of survivors to formulate recommendations to the federal government.

Senator Ernst votes against confirmation of U.S. Attorney General

Senator Joni Ernst.

Senator Joni Ernst.

The U.S. Senate today approved Loretta Lynch to be the new U.S. Attorney General despite “no” votes from both of Iowa’s Senators. Republican Joni Ernst spoke with Iowa reporters by phone from Washington shortly before the vote on Lynch’s confirmation.

“After closely reviewing her testimony, I am not confident Ms. Lynch will act independently from President Obama when the role requires and therefore could not vote to confirm her as attorney general,” Ernst said.

Lynch, currently the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, was confirmed on a vote of 56 to 43 — with 10 Republicans voting for President Obama’s pick to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. Iowa’s senior Senator, Chuck Grassley, voted against Lynch.

Ernst said she has “serious concerns” about Lynch’s decision to defend President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. “She agreed that it was O.K. for him to use executive amnesty in the manner that he did and because of that, I don’t see that she is operating independently. She is being influenced by the political decisions of the White House rather than relying on current law,” Ernst said. Lynch will become the first African-American woman to hold the position of U.S. Attorney General.


House Oversight Committee focuses on Hot Lotto mystery

Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich.

Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich.

The Government Oversight Committee in the Iowa House is asking questions about the case involving a lottery contractor who is charged with trying to illegally claim a Hot Lotto jackpot. Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich met with the committee today and offered a briefing on security and the four-year-long timeline for the case.

“Iowa stopped this fraud and what we believe was a fraud on the Iowa Lottery…thanks to the structure that we had,” Rich said.

A handful of states allow lottery winners to remain anonymous, but Iowa law requires public disclosure of the winner’s name. Rich said that’s one factor that helped prevent Eddie Tipton, an lottery contractor, from claiming the Hot Lotto prize. Rich said the other major factor is that no one person has all the “keys” to lottery security systems, to prevent the kind of fraud alleged in this case.

“A test for us to show a great team is a great team when you have adversity and trying to figure this thing out,” Rich said.

Tipton was an IT expert who worked for the Multi-State Lottery Association and who was prevented by law from buying Iowa Lottery tickets. He has been charged with two counts of fraud. His trial has been delayed until July and Rich told legislators he was limited in what he could discuss about the case. Representative Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton who is an attorney, nonetheless pressed for an answer.

“Have you been able to determine did he just get lucky — you know, what a coincidence — or was he able to somehow hack the system or do something that allowed him to…get that winning ticket?” Wolfe asked during the committee meeting.

Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from Greenfield, said he wants Rich and other key lottery officials to come back to testify to the Oversight Committee once the trial is over to get more answers.

“It’s really, really suspicious,” Baudler said.

If Tipton did something to game the system, Baudler wants to know all about it.

“I think a lot will come out in court and a lot of people that I talk to want to know the answer to that question,” Baudler said.

Steve Bogle, the Iowa Lottery’s security chief, is among those who’ve been called to testify and he’s careful in how he talks about the allegation that Tipton may have rigged computer software to generate the winning numbers on that ticket.

“We’ll just have to wait to see what happens, comes out at the trial, what proof is presented on whether or not he did it or not,” Bogle told reporters this morning after the House Oversight Committee meeting.

Tipton isn’t the only person charged in this case. A man from Houston, Texas, who once employed Tipton is charged with fraud, accused of working with attorneys in New York and Canada to try to claim the prize without revealing Tipton’s identity.

The ticket Tipton has been accused of buying went unclaimed for nearly year. Then, just before the ticket was to expire on December 29, 2011, a New York attorney tried to claim the prize for a trust incorporated in Belize. Iowa Lottery officials refused to turn over the $14.3 million Hot Lotto jackpot because the people involved in the trust refused to reveal their identities.