“Due process requires a fair trial before a fair tribunal, not simply the empty appearance of fairness,” declared District Court Judge Mark Cleve in a ruling that threw out the removal of Mayor Diana Broderson in May. Cleve found that the Muscatine City Council’s “fundamentally unfair” actions violated Broderson’s due process rights in two ways: by in effect having council members act as investigators, prosecutors, and judges; and by “having an interest in the outcome of the removal proceeding.”
The October 24 decision (enclosed in full below) drew heavily on what happened during five closed meetings between February 2016 and January 2017. During those sessions, council members discussed with city attorney Matthew Brick their grievances against the mayor and various options for dealing with her.
The city of Muscatine had unsuccessfully appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, hoping to prevent the District Court from considering transcripts of those closed sessions. And no wonder: Cleve found “the record clearly demonstrates that the Council had prejudged the issues,” and that “the Mayor’s removal was a foregone conclusion.”
Although Cleve did not directly address Brick’s conduct, his decision raises questions about the legal advice council members received from a partner in Iowa’s top law firm for representing municipalities.