August 29, 2014

Bellvue man sentenced to federal prison on gun charges

A Bellvue man will serve nearly 20 years in prison on illegal weapons charges. Forty-eight-year-old Terrance Kilburg pled guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition and one count of possessing a weapon that is required to be registered.

Kilburg admitted to being a felon and possessing 15 guns and various types of ammunition. Two of the weapons were sawed-off shotguns. He also admitted to allowing another person to manufacture meth on his property. Kilburg fled while on release pending his sentencing and was eventually caught in Michigan. He was sentenced to 235 months in federal prison.

Supreme Court will now decide if bar exam is a safeguard or not needed

The Iowa Supreme Court heard several hours of presentations from both sides over a proposal to allow students who graduate from the two laws schools in the state to immediately start practicing without taking the state bar exam.

District Court Judge, Jim Elleffson, was asked how the so-called “diploma privilege” would impact the quality of lawyers based the bar exams he’s administered. “Qualitatively, to let some of the folks out who have given some of the answers that I have seen in the 17 years I have graded the bar exam would be a disaster,” Elleffson says. “They would be an embarrassment to the bar, they would be an embarrassment to the judiciary.”

Elleffson says the exam serves a key purpose. “It seems to me that there are essentially three issues. One is the protection of the public. The other is the fact that I believe the bar exam makes law students into better students,” Elleffson says. Elleffson says the third key issue in keeping the bar exam is that it identifies what he calls the “Hallmark of Lawyers” among the law school graduates.

“When we talk about the Hallmark of Lawyers I think we are talking about an ability to think, I think we are talking about an ability to recognize issues, to analyze those issues and to clearly communicate our analysis of those issue,” Elleffson explains.

Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin, offered a different view of taking the exam. “The whole experience was for me, simply horrendous,” Conlin says. “There is no relationship to any skill necessary to practice law.” Conlin says the exam is something she will never forget.

“I have argued dozens of cases before this court and other appellant courts, and I have never felt the fear that I felt taking the Iowa Bar Examination,” Conlin says. She says she favored instituting the diploma privilege after taking the bar exam, but then became involved in other things and didn’t push the change.

Conlin says she was pleased to learn that a Blue Ribbon Committee had recommended doing away with the bar exam. “It measures nothing about what one needs to have to practice law effectively. It accomplishes nothing — it is not even a decent right of passage,” Conlin says. “Instead it is simply a test of one’s ability to live through three days of unrelenting stress.”

The Iowa Supreme Court also received more than 150 written comments on the issue. A court spokesman says there is not timetable for when the justices will decide the issue. Wisconsin is the only state that allows law school graduates to begin working without passing a bar exam.


Appeals Court rules gang references didn’t hinder Waterloo man’s case

The Iowa Court of Appeals has upheld a northeast Iowa man’s murder conviction. Montez Caples of Waterloo admitted to luring 34-year-old Robert Shannon of Parkersburg into a car where he shot him in the back of the neck in 2011. He said he was forced to kill Shannon by another man.

Caples was found guilty of first-degree murder, but appealed the conviction, saying evidence that he and Shannon were members of rival gangs should not have been allowed at the trial. He also said an interview with police where he confessed to the shooting should not have been allowed.

The Court of Appeals says the evidence of Caples’ gang involvement, and his confession were both properly used in the trial and the verdict, and his life sentence should stand.

See the full ruling here: Caples ruling PDF


Program uses mentors to teach intervention against sexual violence

The Mentor in Violence Prevention program is teaching Iowa high school and college students how to prevent sexual assault. MVP coaches the students to intercede when they recognize signs of looming sexual violence.

Iowa State University student Tucker Carrell participated in MVP while in high school and says sometimes it’s hard to speak up, but it’s important to act. “I know one of the biggest things that we consistently talked about and that I really took from this whole program was just listening to things happen, being that bystander,” Carrell says. “It really almost hurts you more and affects you more because you hang on to that and you remember that as well as letting you know whoever is committing some kind of action or harmful act know that’s okay or think that is okay.”

A recent study found one in five women are sexually assaulted while in college. Alan Heisterkamp (HY-stir-camp), director of the Mentors in Violence Prevention Leadership Institute, says silence in the face of disrespect or assault condones sexual violence, so the program teaches bystander intervention.

Heisterkamp says, “You may think that it’s wrong but if we speak out or respond in a way to correct the behavior, often times the abuse or the inappropriate comments can come back on me because the culture of that system doesn’t support those prosocial behaviors.” Carrell and Heisterkamp made their comments on the Iowa Public Radio program, “River to River.”


Ex-State Senator admits he took $73,000 ‘under the table’ to work on 2012 presidential campaign

Kent Sorenson (file photo)

Kent Sorenson (file photo)

A state senator who resigned after being accused of taking payments to work on a 2012 presidential campaign has pleaded guilty to taking $73,000 worth of what prosecutors call “under-the-table” money.

The U.S. Department of Justice today announced 42-year-old Kent Sorenson of Milo has pled guilty to one count of obstruction of justice and one count of causing a presidential campaign to falsely report its expenditures to the Federal Election Commission.

Sorenson had been the chairman of Michele Bachmann’s campaign for the Iowa Caucuses, but Sorenson now admits he started secret negotiations in the fall of 2011 to switch to the Ron Paul camp, in exchange for money. Prosecutors say some of the $73,000 paid to Sorenson was concealed by transferring the money to a film production company and then to a second company before it got to Sorenson.

In his plea agreement, Sorenson admits he lied to a lawyer hired by the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations that Sorenson was paid to work on a presidential campaign, which is a violation of senate rules. Sorenson will be sentenced later.

Michele Bachman at a 2011 news conference.

Michele Bachman at a 2011 news conference.

Sorenson resigned from the state senate in October soon after the independent counsel hired by the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee released a report concluding it was “manifestly clear” that Sorenson was paid to work on Bachmann’s presidential campaign. Senator Wally Horn of Cedar Rapids leads the Senate Ethics Committee.

“Iowa is squeaky clean, even though once in a while we have a problem,” Horn told Radio Iowa an hour after Sorenson resigned.

Sorenson sent an email to supporters last October saying he “did not do anything illegal” or “immoral.” Sorenson accused his attackers of a “witch hunt” and he argued the investigation had been “rigged” against him because of his public opposition to the Iowa Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling. The first person to publicly accuse Sorenson of taking money to jump ship and join the Ron Paul campaign was Michele Bachmann.

“I had a conversation with Kent Sorenson and…he told me he that was offered money,” Bachmann said. “He was offered a lot of money by the Ron Paul campaign to go associate with the Ron Paul campaign.”

Bachmann made those comments during a news conference on December 29, 2011 — the day after Sorenson attended a Ron Paul rally to announce he was jumping from Bachmann to Paul’s camp.

F. Montgomery Brown, Sorenson’s attorney, released a written statement today, asking for privacy for Sorenson and his family.

“Mr. Sorenson’s pleas are part of the process of taking complete responsibility for the series of compounding errors and omissions he engaged in, aided and abetted, and participated in with others,” Brown wrote. “…This is a very sad day for Mr. Sorenson, his family, and his friends, many of whom were in attendance in court. To the extent others may take glee with his predicament, there is nothing that can be done.”

Sorenson owned and operated a cleaning business in Indianola before his election to the Iowa House in 2008, then he won a seat in the Iowa Senate in 2010. In a September 19, 2013 deposition that was part of the Iowa Senate Ethics Committee’s investigation of the allegations against Sorenson, he was quizzed about why he was being paid by the Ron Paul campaign.

“What was the consulting work that you were doing?” asked Mark Weinhart, the independent counsel investigating the case for the ethics committee.

Sorenson replied: “I don’t think that’s relevant to the investigation…I’m not going to answer the question.”

Weinhart also asked: “What was it that made you so valuable that they would pay, I think, well over $60,000 during the course of 2012?”

Sorenson, in his answer, suggested his value was as a future candidate for federal office.

“I don’t know if you understand how this works, but he had an interest in me possibly running for the U.S. Senate in this election cycle,” Sorenson said in the deposition. “…I would probably be one of the front-runners right now (if not for the ethics investigation). A lot of people believe that.”

(This post was updated at 3:27 p.m. with additional information.)

Carter Lake man sent to jail for stealing vases from cemetery

A southwest Iowa man is sentenced to prison time after being convicted of stealing dozens of vases from an eastern Nebraska cemetery. Authorities say 53-year-old Gary Hostetter, of Carter Lake, Iowa, admitted to taking 45 brass vases from Memorial Cemetery in Fremont, Nebraska. The vases are worth about $220 each, for a total of $9,000.

While Hostetter confessed to taking 45 vases, the cemetery says 93 were missing. He was caught trying to sell the vases for scrap. Hostetter was sentenced in Dodge County, Nebraska, courts to a minimum of ten months in prison, a maximum of five years.


Supreme Court holds hearing on allowing immediate practice for law school grads

Iowa Supreme Court building.

Iowa Supreme Court building.

The Iowa Supreme Court is holding a public hearing this morning on change that would make it easier for the graduates of two state law schools to practice in the state.

Court communications officer Steve Davis says a Blue Ribbon Committee from the Iowa State Bar Association recommended the change. “Currently after they graduate from Drake University Law school the University of Iowa College of law, they are required to successfully complete the Iowa Bar examination. Under this recommendation, they would no longer have to do that,” Davis explains.

Today’s hearing will include testimony from 24 people. Davis says there will be a variety of speakers — from law school deans, district court judges to the Iowa Attorney General — who will make comments.

The court has already taken written comments on the issue. “There’s actually 152 written comments made, so the court’s going to have a lot of information to make the decision,” Davis says. The justices will make a decision after today’s hearing. Davis says the judges will get together and discuss the issue, but there’s not a timeline for making a decision.

Today’s hearing begins at 9 a.m. and will be streamed live on the court system’s website. Davis says the written comments and the proposal itself are all posted online at: