Don't Listen to Me -- a Liberal Elite Lawyer
By B John Burns
November 3, 2012

Several weeks ago, I had a long discussion in a grocery store with one of the three victims of the 2010 judicial retention election.  This former justice had been invited by a local media outlet to appear jointly with Bob VanderPlaats to discuss his effort to oust Justice David Wiggins next Tuesday.  He or she was still contemplating the offer.

You can’t do it, I told him or her.  Don’t waste your breath.  You CAN’T argue with Bob VanderPlaats.

The proof for my point is in an essay by VanderPlaats that appeared on the Des Moines Register website on November 2, entitled “Iowa View: It’s An Open And Shut Case Against Wiggins.”  In it, he repeats the same vitriolic lies he has been spewing since he lost his bid for the Republican nomination for governor two years ago, and dismisses the bipartisan efforts of people who actually DO understand the nature of the damage he is attempting to wreak upon our system with the familiar “[l]awyers and judges are trying to bully Iowans into thinking it’s immoral to vote “no” on Justice Wiggins. . .Don’t allow the liberal elites to sacrifice the Constitution in order to protect their own institution.”

The beauty in VanderPlaats' argument is the insistence that the views of lawyers and judges be excluded from the debate. It's like he decided to mount a campaign to persuade the public that there is no such thing as heart disease. Then, when all the cardiologists in Iowa respond that there most certainly is such a thing as heart disease, his answer is that you can't listen to them. Of COURSE they're going to say that. They're the cause of the problem. They create the problem by making the diagnoses.  THEY’RE JUST PROTECTING THEIR OWN INSTITUTION.

I’ve said this before, but if such logic continues to have impact, we could, and should, use it to OUR advantage.


I know you are, too.  I have to believe that the majority of educated Iowans could be educated to realize the error in his views and the damage he is doing in Iowa to bolster his ego.  Let’s USE that.

Let’s get legislation passed silencing Bob VanderPlaats.  Let’s make sure the legislation refers to him specifically, and bars him from speaking publicly, publishing his line of crap in any print media and organizing any public meeting in which he, or any of his Nineteenth  Century throwback supporters, are allowed to speak.  Let’s make it a crime for Bob VanderPlaats to advance his misguided arguments in public, not just in the future but in 2010 as well.

You can’t do that, Bob VanderPlaats will scream.

Why can’t we do that?

It would deprive me of my “liberties” under the Constitution (the same Constitution that vests me with the liberty to interfere in the marital rights of two complete strangers).

Which specific constitutional liberties are you referring to?  It’s not a question of YOUR liberties, is it?  It’s a question of OUR liberties, the liberties of “We the People”, to vote nuisances like you into historical oblivion.

That’s when Bob VanderPlaats would hire one of us, the liberal elite, to explain to the liberal activist judges how such legislation would violate the First Amendment, the Ex Post Facto clause, the Bill of Attainders clause, and perhaps Due Process.

But it’s too late.  For an Iowa court to hold in Bob VanderPlaats’ favor, it would be creating a right that doesn’t exist in the Iowa Constitution – the right of Bob VanderPlaats to lie and to speak like an expert on matters about which he has no vestige of a clue.  Right?  That judge, or judges, would be LEGISLATING FROM THE BENCH!!

And if any judge, or any court, rules otherwise, that’s when I’LL vote “no” in the next judicial retention elections.

By B John Burns
October 30, 2012

If you live in the Des Moines area, you have one more opportunity tonight to see the Integral Artists Theater and One Iowa joint production of a staged reading of the Dustin Lance Black play "8". I saw it on Sunday and it is mesmerizing. And its importance in view of next week's judicial retention election cannot be understated.

The play is about the successful federal district court challenge in Perry v. Brown, on Equal Protection Grounds, to California's Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to outlaw gay marriage.  Plaintiffs were also successful in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and a petition for writ of certiorari is now pending before the United States Supreme Court.

One of the elements that  makes “8" so alluring is that the majority of the dialogue comes directly from the transcripts of the district court trial. The raison d'etre for this production is that the plaintiffs and Republican District Court Judge Vaughan Walker wished to allow cameras into the courtroom, giving the public the opportunity to follow the historic proceedings. The State of California objected, and the United States Supreme Court barred the broadcast. By transforming the trial transcript into a stage play, the ensemble is able to bring to life issues in Perry that are equally relevant here in Iowa.

The ensemble in the Integral Arts production is a collection of some of Des Moines’ finest acting talent, including Steve Berry, who actually attended Drake Law School, as plaintiff's attorney Theodore Olson. Interestingly, Olson and co-counsel David Boies had been adversaries in 2000 in Bush v. Gore.

The other interesting touch by producer/director Ron Gilbert is that the performance takes place in an actual courtroom setting, at the Neal and Bea Smith Legal Clinic on 24th and University in Des Moines.

If you can break free tonight at 7, this production is worth your while. The $25 admission goes to benefit One Iowa, one of the groups spesrheading the resistance to Bob VanderPlaats' nefarious crusade.

 (NOTE:  I composed this blog entry on Monday.  When I say you can catch the last performance "tonight" at 7, that was Monday night.  I sent a message to Ron Gilbert asking if he would extend the production to tonight, in case anyone read my blog and decided to come.  I have not heard back, but I guess the answer will be no.

 It occurs to me now that a possible reason for the one-day delay in getting this posted is that I was referring to the play as "9" rather than "8".  My assumption is that the website administrator saw this and assumed it was a sequel).

Stale Observations
By B John Burns
October 25, 2012

Here are a couple of stale observations that came into my head 11 days ago.  I took last week off, so I’m just getting around to them now.

I’m sure you all saw this, but in the October 14 Sunday Register the three victims of the 2010 judicial retention elections co-wrote a very thoughtful, intelligent essay explaining Varnum v. Brien – what it stood for and what it didn’t, and illustrating how the Supreme Court simply did its job in reaching the Varnum decision.

I’ve said it before, but in the long run these three are going to be the heroes of Iowa history, and VanderPlaats and his crew the villains.  David Baker, Marsha Ternus, and Mike Streit were gifted judges and are extraordinary people.  Their October 14 essay is simply additional proof.  It’s more salt in the wound.

You know what I was thinking when I was reading it?

You and I are in the business of making deals.  Let’s make a deal with the devil.  Let’s go to VanderPlaats with an offer.

You can HAVE Wiggins, we should tell him.  But YOU give us back one of the three 2010 justices.  Then EVERYBODY will be happy.

Tell me that thought never crossed YOUR mind.

Okay, and one other thing I was thinking that same day.  How ironic is it that the character who sets the all time world record for a spiraling descending nosedive from space is named BAUMGARTNER?  Is that poetic justice or what?

Am I the only one who caught THAT?
Carolyn Coleman
By B John Burns
October 23, 2012

When I first started out in this racket, back when I worked for the Appellate Defender, I used to go down for one Thursday morning each month and do telephone intake at Polk County Legal Aid.  It was a positive experience for me, because of the variety of problems that walk into Legal Aid off the street.  It’s like the bar exam, in that the client walks in, tells you his or her story, and you have to determine what the issues are.  Then you refer the client to the attorney who practices in that particular field.  It was the only time in my 28 years of practice that I strayed even slightly from criminal defense.

Many of the questions that walk into Legal Aid are simple enough that even I could answer them.  But at least once, and often more times, each morning, I would be confronted with a set of facts that I had no idea what to do with.  When that happened, I’d have to get up out of my chair, wander around the office, and find an attorney who was available and knowledgeable.

For the really complex questions, there was always Carolyn Coleman.  I believe Carolyn specialized in administrative law, but she was always willing to take a stab at any unusual set of facts.  And she always had time for me.

I’ve told this story a lot over the past quarter century.  One Wednesday night, the night before I was coming in to do intake at Legal Aid, I had a dream.  I dreamed I was at the intake desk at Legal Aid, and I got a call.

“I have a right to any attorney, don’t I?” the caller asked.

“In some cases, yes.”

“And in those cases, if I can’t afford an attorney, an attorney will be provided for me at government expense.  Right?”

“In some cases, yes.”

“Okay.  I also have a constitutional right to carry a gun, right?”

Well, at that point, the issue hadn’t fully been decided, but I told him that there is an argument to be made that, yes, you do.

“Okay.  So if I can’t afford to buy a hunting license, shouldn’t one be provided for me at government expense?”

In my dream, this appealed to me to be an intriguing question.  In my dream, I arose from my desk, walked directly to Carolyn Coleman’s office, and laid it out for her.

Before she could answer, however, I woke up.

So the next day, I’m doing intake at Legal Aid.  It was one of the last times I volunteered there.  During a lull in the calls, I decided to give it a shot.  I arose from my desk, walked down the hall, and stood in the doorway to Carolyn Coleman’s office.  She peered up at me over her reading glasses.

“I’ve got this guy on the phone.  He’s got a question.  To start with, he has a constitutional right to possess a gun for hunting?”

“I guess.  That’s not my field, but probably.”

“What he wants to know is that, if he can’t afford to buy a hunting license, shouldn’t one be provided to him at public expense?”

Carolyn looked at me for a couple of seconds, and then buried her head in the work she had been doing when I walked in.

“Get the hell out of my office,” she snapped.

Carolyn Coleman passed away Saturday at the age of 60 in her home, apparently a victim of colon cancer.  After she left the Legal Aid Society, she had worked for several years as an administrative law judge.  But the family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Iowa Legal Aid Society.

Goodbye, Carolyn.  Thanks for all the help.
The Way My Mind Works
By B John Burns
October 4, 2012

This is the way my mind works.

There’s a story starting to appear in the local Des Moines media that Des Moines Police shot and killed a cougar this morning near Madison School on the north side.

The first thing that slipped into my mind was I wonder how the Hon. Nancy Baumgartner, who spoke movingly and articulately at the February 24, 1983 joint hearing of the Iowa Legislature on restoring the death penalty to the state, could have made it this far west.

And here’s another thing.

In the papers over the weekend, it was disclosed that recent polling shows that almost half of Iowa voters favor retaining Justice David Wiggins on the Iowa Supreme Court.

Is that something he’s supposed to see as a GOOD thing?  Wouldn’t it be better if MORE THAN half of Iowa voters favored retention?

Here’s hoping that our President does a little better in the next two debates.  A good turnout for him on November 6 should be helpful on the retention issue.  At least you would think.
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