Iowa Supreme Court suspends Ted Sporer's law license for six months

A once-prominent voice for central Iowa Republicans will be unable to practice law for six months under an Iowa Supreme Court ruling announced yesterday. In a unanimous decision enclosed in full below, the justices found that Ted Sporer made “false statements to a tribunal” and engaged in “misrepresentation or deceit,” as well as conduct “prejudicial to the administration of justice.” For Sporer’s side of the story, watch his presentation during last month’s oral arguments before the high court (video also enclosed below).

The disciplinary action stemmed from a 2013 case, in which Polk County District Court Judge Douglas Staskal determined “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Sporer “fabricated evidence” and “lied under oath” to help a client who was violating the terms of a divorce decree. Bleeding Heartland posted relevant excerpts from that ruling here.

The Supreme Court’s Grievance Commission had recommended the six-month suspension, citing “significant aggravating circumstances”: Sporer’s long experience as an attorney, violations of multiple ethics rules, and prior disciplinary history including a public reprimand. Scroll to the end of this post to read a 2011 letter of to Sporer from the Iowa Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board, citing misrepresentations to a client he had failed to represent “with reasonable diligence and promptness.”

Sporer chaired the Polk County Republican Party from 2001 to 2009 and served on the Republican Party of Iowa’s State Central Committee from 2002 to 2008, during which time he spent five years as the GOP’s State Organization Chairman. He was also an active voice in Iowa’s conservative blogosphere during the last decade. However, he has not updated The Real Sporer blog since 2012.

The last time Sporer was in the news, he was representing then State Senator Kent Sorenson in a lawsuit over allegedly stolen e-mails (which was later settled out of court) and during a criminal investigation of Sorenson’s actions before and after the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Sporer repeatedly denied his client had received any “direct or indirect payment from the Ron Paul campaign.” Even as revelations about payments from Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign forced Sorenson to resign from the Iowa Senate, Sporer continued to insist his client had not lied. Sorenson later pled guilty to the hidden payment scheme and was eventually sentenced to 15 months in prison after cooperating with the federal investigation into former Paul campaign operatives.

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Weekend open thread: A new job for Steven Leath?

Some non-legislative news caught my eye this weekend: Iowa State University President Steven Leath may be leaving Ames soon. Cynthia Williford reported for the Opelika-Auburn News on March 18 that “multiple sources” say Leath is on the short list for Auburn University president. His “experience in agriculture and leadership at a land-grant university could make him an attractive pick,” she noted.

Leath “declined comment then hung up” on Gavin Aronsen of the Iowa Informer. I had a hunch he might look for a job in the South with Bruce Rastetter’s tenure on the Iowa Board of Regents ending soon.

Alluding to the “planegate” scandal, the Des Moines Register and Iowa State Daily stories on the Auburn rumor included the following two sentences: “Leath used the plane for medical appointments in Minnesota, personal flight lessons and trips to his North Carolina home. He’s reimbursed the university for those flights.” I still maintain that Leath did not fully reimburse ISU’s foundation for all of his medical travel.

Iowa State finally gave the Des Moines Register’s Jason Clayworth records including names of passengers who flew with Leath on the university’s King Air. But this story by Erin Jordan for the Cedar Rapids Gazette hints that the university was trying to avoid having the Iowa Public Information Board assess the Register’s complaint.

However, because Clayworth already had many of the unredacted records, ISU eventually decided to give him the full set, [ISU general counsel Michael] Norton said. Because of the resolution, the board did not have to rule on whether the records about potential donors were public information.

“It’s a gray area,” Norton said.

Norton has not responded to my follow-up questions, such as: Will ISU release King Air passenger names to others who request them? Will the university give Clayworth or anyone else names of passengers on future trips, for which the Des Moines Register doesn’t already have unreacted records?

This is an open thread: all topics welcome. Another story that may interest Iowa politics watchers: two months after being sentenced, former State Senator Kent Sorenson began serving his 15-month federal prison sentence this week, Grant Rodgers reported on March 15. Prosecutors had asked for probation, given Sorenson’s cooperation with the investigation into former Ron Paul presidential campaign aides. Rodgers linked to a blog post in which Sorenson wrote, “I have been very open about the mistakes I have made. I truly believe the sentence I received was unjust. The judge was politically motivated, his wife is an activist for the liberal movement and donated to my opponent.” Sorenson’s family are asking for donations to help support his wife and kids.

UPDATE: Clayworth’s report on passengers who flew on ISU’s King Air went online the evening of March 19. I enclose some excerpts below.

Clayworth clarified that the Register “had less than 80 of the 600+ pages [of King Air records]. ISU was told multiple times that we did NOT have all the records.”

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Kent Sorenson will serve time over illegal campaign payments

Former State Senator Kent Sorenson will spend time in prison for taking money in exchange for endorsing Ron Paul shortly before the 2012 Iowa caucuses. Sorenson pled guilty to the federal offenses more than two years ago, but his sentencing was delayed repeatedly as he cooperated with investigators looking into conduct by others. Sorenson’s testimony helped to convict three former senior Paul campaign officials of crimes including conspiracy, causing false campaign expenditure reporting and making false statements.

Prosecutors recommended probation and community service for Sorenson, but U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt sentenced him to 15 months in prison today, Grant Rodgers reported for the Des Moines Register. Pratt described Sorenson’s actions as “the definition of political corruption.”

In contrast, prosecutors had sought sentences of two years in prison for Paul’s former campaign chairman Jesse Benton and campaign manager John Tate. But last September, District Court Judge John Jarvey sentenced them to two years probation and $10,000 fines instead. The same judge sentenced former deputy campaign manager Dimitri Kesari to three months in prison for orchestrating the illegal payments scheme.

One thing I’ve never understood: why did federal prosecutors focus only on crimes involving Paul’s operatives, when Sorenson also conspired to accept $7,500 per month from entities linked to Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign? A special investigator’s report on payments from pro-Bachmann committees prompted Sorenson to resign from the Iowa Senate in 2013.

Sorenson avoided trial on domestic abuse charges last year by pleading guilty to disorderly conduct.

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Steve King defends scrapping Ethics Office; Blum and Young say they oppose

The main order of business in the U.S. House on January 3 was electing the speaker on the first day of the new session. House members returned Paul Ryan to that position with only one dissenting vote from the GOP caucus, in contrast to January 2015, when Representatives Rod Blum (IA-01) and Steve King (IA-04) were among 25 Republicans not supporting Speaker John Boehner’s re-election.

The big news on Tuesday, however, was House Republicans backpedaling on their vote the previous night to gut the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics.

While staff for dozens of House members hid behind “we don’t know” or “we’ll get back to you” in response to constituent calls, King became one of the few “loud and proud” supporters of the amendment. In fact, he will seek to abolish the office rather than merely neutering it.

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Weekend open thread: Strange courtroom pronouncements edition

Kent Sorenson official photo Kent_Sorenson_-_Official_Portrait_-_84th_GA_zpsnmaxx4mw.jpg

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Former State Senator Kent Sorenson testified this week in the trial of two former Ron Paul presidential campaign aides. (A judge dismissed charges against a third man who had been indicted in the same case.) After initially claiming to be the victim of a “straight-up political witch hunt,” Sorenson eventually pled guilty to federal charges related to accepting hidden payments. He had been negotiating with Paul’s operatives for months on a price for changing his allegiance from presidential candidate Michele Bachmann to Paul less than a week before the Iowa caucuses.

Russ Choma wrote up Sorenson’s testimony for Mother Jones, and Grant Rodgers has been covering the trial for the Des Moines Register. On Thursday, Sorenson testified that he was upset when some staffers for Michele Bachmann’s campaign treated him “like a leper,” after he revealed that he had considered switching to Paul and was offered money to do so. Dude, what did you expect? Asking to be paid for a presidential endorsement should get a person shunned from polite society. People with leprosy should take offense at being compared to a guy like you.

Sorenson said in court the next day that going into politics was “a waste of my life, and I wish I had not done it.” I would guess a large number of Iowans in both parties also wish he had never gotten involved with politics.

Ten days ago, Polk County District Court Judge Douglas Staskal heard arguments in a case challenging Governor Terry Branstad’s veto of funding for two in-patient mental health facilities his administration decided to close earlier this year. In one exchange, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Thompson asserted that the governor could theoretically shut down the state’s court system by exercising his veto power to reject all appropriated funds for the judiciary. He noted that the constitution gives state lawmakers power to override a governor’s veto (through a two-thirds majority vote in both the Iowa House and Senate), and courts should not take on that role if legislators decline to do so.

I would like to hear attorneys’ opinions on whether the governor’s veto power extends so far. Can the governor eliminate virtually any part of state government by blocking appropriations for it, as long as at least one-third plus one member of one chamber of the legislature will back up his political agenda?

I’ve posted excerpts from these reports after the jump.

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