State Senator Adrian Dickey is seeking monetary damages from his daughter and others who filed a civil lawsuit in July accusing him of fraud in connection with a car lien and title.
Korynn Dickey, her mother Shawna Husted, and adoptive father Allen Husted alleged in court filings that after buying Korynn a car in 2020, “no strings attached,” Adrian Dickey signed his daughter’s name to car lien and car title application forms, without her knowledge or consent. The senator asserted in a response filed with the Jefferson County District Court that Korynn “acquiesced or consented/gave her permission” for her father to sign her name.
I wondered whether Dickey might seek to settle this litigation to avoid the expense and publicity of a trial. Instead, he escalated the conflict on August 16, when his attorney Paul Miller submitted an amended answer to the lawsuit. A new section lays out a counterclaim against all plaintiffs, accusing them of making false “written and spoken statements” that “are injurious to the Defendant’s reputation.” Dickey is asking the court to award $120,000 in damages.
Siobhan Briley, who is representing the plaintiffs in this case, responded to my inquiry via email on an August 17.
Mr. Dickey’s claim is without basis in law or fact. Under Iowa law, statements made in judicial proceedings, including all filings and arguments, are immune from liability for defamation. We are confident that the claim will be dismissed, either on motion to dismiss or summary judgment.
This longstanding legal principle of “absolute privilege” in defamation cases is not specific to Iowa; it stems from common law. Briley referred me to the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in a 1992 case known as Spencer v. Spencer.
In that case, the justices cited a publication on torts from The American Law Institute, used by judges across the country, to explain that an attorney or party to a case “is absolutely privileged to publish false and defamatory statements in judicial proceedings if (1) the statements are made preliminary to, or in the institution of, or during the course and as a part of a judicial proceeding, and (2) the content of the statement is reasonably pertinent or has some relation to the judicial proceeding.”
Briley emphasized that although the Spencer case allows publication of “false and defamatory statements,” she and her clients “believe the statements made in the pleadings are true.” An accurate statement cannot be legally considered defamation, even if it injures another person’s reputation.
The plaintiffs are seeking a jury trial and have asked that it not be held in Jefferson County. Dickey represents all of that county and several others that are part of Iowa Senate district 44. Jefferson County Treasurer Mark Myers is also a defendant in the case, because his office accepted the disputed car lien application. The plaintiffs have requested that the case be transferred to Johnson County, “to avoid any residual influence arising from the counties surrounding Jefferson County.”
Unrelated to this civil lawsuit, Dickey is facing a simple misdemeanor charge of interference with official acts after being arrested in Sac County during RAGBRAI. He has pleaded not guilty and has asked for a jury trial. (Former Iowa Secretary of State and Madison County Attorney Matt Schultz is representing Dickey in the criminal proceedings.) Magistrate Joshua Walsh has scheduled a pretrial conference in the case for October 31 in Sac County.
Dickey, a Republican, was first elected to the legislature in a 2021 special election and was re-elected to a full four-year term in 2022.