WELCOME to the debut of “The Truth Is!”, a blog of reporting and commentary that aims to be informative, thoughtful and provocative. At least initially, the blog will have a strong heartland flavor by virtue of the connection of a number of us to Cowles family journalism. I am former editor of the Des Moines Register’s opinion pages. Another contributor, Michael Gartner, is former editor of the paper; he later served as president of NBC News. Another former Register editor who has agreed to contribute, Geneva Overholser, is director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg school of journalism. Followers of the blog will have access also to the work of Herbert Strentz of Des Moines, a close Register and other newspaper watcher who once headed Drake University’s journalism school. Bill Leonard, a longtime Register editorial writer, will add insights.

“The Truth Is!” will be supervised by my daughter, Marcia Wolff, a communications lawyer for 20 years with Arnold and Porter (Washington, D.C.). Invaluable technical assistance in assembling and maintaining the blog is provided by my grandsons Julian Cranberg, a college first-year, and Daniel Wolff, a high school senior.

If you detect a whiff of nepotism in this operation, so be it. All of it is strictly a labor of love. —Gil Cranberg

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Michael Gartner: THE BAR EXAM

A committee of the Iowa State Bar Association has proposed that Iowa change its rules so that graduates of the law schools at Drake and the University of Iowa be admitted to the practice of law in this state without taking the bar exam.

That is not a good idea.

The Supreme Court, which sets the rules, has been taking comments from lawyers and others, and it has set a public hearing for August 27. Twenty-three persons are scheduled to appear and comment, including the deans of the two law schools, Attorney General Tom Miller, former Attorney General Roxanne Conlin, a handful of judges and others who have strong feelings on the issue.

The Bar committee’s argument is as simple as it is flawed: If admitted upon graduation, the young lawyers would be able to start practicing immediately and begin paying off their college and law-school debts. The average four-and-a-half month delay between graduation and admission to the bar costs the would-be lawyer an average of $29,000 in lost income, the committee says.

And that four-and-a-half month retention of debt and loss of income keep young lawyers from hanging out their shingles in small towns, serving “historically underrepresented communities” or entering public service, the argument goes.


That seems a stretch.

You learn a lot in law school — I am a graduate of the law school at New York University — but you learn the broad brush-strokes, not the fine details. Mainly, though, you learn how to think. You learn how to look at an issue from all sides, take it apart and put it back together, consider how it fits into historical patterns, and ponder how it fits into society today. You learn some principles from famous cases and some basic truths from the Constitution — and then you learn that those principles change and those truths aren’t always basic.

The bar exam tests your grasp of these principles and truths — as they are interpreted today — but it’s also a test of your ability to think and analyze and look at an issue from all sides. It’s a test, in other words, to see if you have learned anything in law school.

For some, the answer is no. Nationwide, 83,986 persons took bar exams last year; 26,960 of them — 32% — flunked. In Iowa, 377 persons took the exam and 46 — 12% — flunked, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners. According to the report prepared by the Iowa bar committee urging an end to the exam for Drake and U of I grads, 996 graduates of Drake and Iowa took the Iowa bar exam for the first time in the five years from 2008 through 2012, and 68 of those — 6.8% — flunked. The annual flunk rate for first-time takers was as high as 24% for Drake grads, as high as 15% for Iowa graduates.

So the exam does weed out the slow-learners.

Further, Iowa would keep the exam for graduates of other schools —for instance Yale or Harvard or Stanford or Columbia or the University of Chicago, which are ranked as the top five law schools in the nation. So it sets up a two-class system, which could discourage non-Drake and non-Iowa graduates from wanting to come here. And, without casting any aspersions, that might lower the quality of lawyers in the state. According to U.S. News and World Report, Iowa’s law school is ranked 27th among the 194 law schools in the country; Drake’s is ranked 113th.

There was a time — from 1873 until 1884 — when Iowa recognized this so-called diploma privilege, granting automatic bar admission to graduates of the in-state schools. Most states had similar rules. But most dropped the rule in the 1800s, according to a report from the staff of the Iowa Supreme Court, and today the privilege exists only in Wisconsin. What’s more, the American Bar Association opposes the practice.

So it boils down to this: Dropping the bar exam would be a nifty recruiting tool for Iowa’s two law schools, might keep out some very talented young lawyers from very good law schools elsewhere, and would increase the risk that when you hire a lawyer you might end up with a person who might better have been a steamfitter.

It’s not a good idea.

* * *

If the state’s legal establishment is truly worried about the debt law-school students pile up, there’s a simple solution: Cut a year out of the three-year curriculum. President Obama — a lawyer — has suggested it, and some law schools are trying variations of it.

Of course, that would mean laying off some professors and seeing a drop in revenue.

So scratch that idea.


Consider yourself cursed for the next 825 days or so.

With the November election 90 or so days away and the 2016 election adding 735 more to the total, you’ll be cursed with tens of thousands of messages of hate, lies and stupidity — all appealing to the worst that is in you.

Yep, campaign ads.

My optimistic nature leads me to expect only the worst in campaign ads — and yet a voice within and the evidence so far suggest that even “the worst” understates the abominations in store for us. Nothing is sacred. And to make that point, consider what campaign ads we’d be subject to if Jesus Christ were running for office and the opposition dug up the dirt on Him. (Aristotle and Buddha would be as vulnerable to attack ads, but we are more familiar with the teachings of Christ and many in the US consider it to be a Christian nation.)

So here are some 15-second anti-Christ spots. Consider the opening few words emblazoned across your TV screen and the lines intoned by that hideous voice that finds employment every election cycle. The accompanying video, of course, is likely a still shot of a bearded and long-haired creep. Every ad carries the required attribution.

IS HE A PEDOPHILE? Judge for yourself, but don’t say we didn’t warn you about a single man who has a penchant for being surrounded by little children. You can look it up, Matthew 19, but happily, you can vote it down. Protect our children! I am Satan and I approve this ad.

SOFT ON CRIME! What is Christ’s answer to crime? He says, Let he who is without sin cast the first stone or serve the first sentence. Been beaten up? Christ says to turn the other cheek. You can look it up, John 8:7, but you’ll want to vote it down. Send criminals a message. Vote NO! on Christ. I am Satan and I…

TAX AND SPEND! Jesus Christ wants you to pay more taxes. Render unto government whatever government wants. You can look it up, Matthew 22. Say NO! to taxes. I am Satan...

REDISTRIBUTE WEALTH! You’ve worked hard for your money, the vacation home, security for your family. Christ says forget it, sell all you have and give it to the poor. You can look it up, Mark 18, but you must vote it down. I am Satan…

CLIMATE CHANGE ACTIVIST. Don’t let Christ near nature’s thermostats. He says man controls the climate; He calmed a stormy sea. Don’t let him try to soak you. Look it up, Luke 8, and tell government to keep its hands off the weather or they’ll foul that up, too.

SOFT ON IMMIGRATION. He says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Sure and who will foot the bills for the illegals and welfare kings and queens who will occupy those rooms? You can look it up, John 14.

A VOICE FOR THE LAZY! Forget about a minimum wage for a full day’s work. Jesus Christ says it is just fine to pay a person for one hour of work the same as you would pay another person for eight or 10 hours of work. Look it up, Matthew 20, and vote NO! on Christ, the lazy man’s candidate.

THE JOB DESTROYER! If elected this November, Christ would put wineries out of business and threaten private health care with his so-called miracle cures. Non-partisan think tanks estimate his election would cost America 5 million jobs and even more in Iowa! His quackery riddles Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Protect your right for a “great physician” of your choice, not His.

A PIG IN A POKE: Christ managed to infuriate both the pork industry and PETA by having 2,000 head of swine jump off a cliff. Look it up in Mark 5. He’ll go after soybeans next! I am Satan and I approve this ad.

That’s the curse in store for you for the next 825 days or so.

What’s even worse is that ads like that work.


The New York Times Aug. 3 Sunday magazine featured Iowa governor Terry Branstad atop a tongue-in-cheek headline that told how “one state turned its adorable little caucus into a year-round tourist destination.”

The piece was about Branstad’s longevity in office (he’ll soon be the longest-serving governor in the nation’s history) but nowhere did the Times mention a single Branstad accomplishment during that span. He has, in fact, been a colorless time server who, after years of practice, still can’t read a speech without stumbling.

The big question after Branstad finished his first term was what next? Influential friends had gotten him the job of running a local osteopathic college, but Branstad had no scientific training and little apparent interest in health care. An acquaintance described him, accurately, as suffering from a deficiency of competence.

The Iowa caucuses are still months away. The last time they were in the spotlight they were marred by misreported results. If Iowa is not again to be a laughingstock it had better get it right this time. Can Branstad and his osteopathic buddies make the necessary adjustments?

Michael Gartner: NAMING NAMES

“The Register’s policy is to not identify accusers in sexual-assault cases without their permission,” the Des Moines newspaper noted recently.

So the paper did not name Hunter Elizabeth Breshears in the story about former Iowa State athlete Bubu Palo suing her for defamation, infliction of emotional distress and abuse of process.


In May of 2012, fellow Iowa State University student Breshears told Ames police that she was sexually assaulted by Palo, a friend from high school with whom she had slept before, and he then was charged with two counts of criminal sexual abuse in the second degree. He pleaded not guilty. Ultimately -- and after reams of bad publicity for Palo and after his removal from the ISU basketball team -- charges were dropped.

According to court documents, a key piece of evidence -- a torn blouse -- had been altered. And, according to court documents, the alteration was made while the blouse was in the possession of Breshears and her mother, Grace Breshears.

So the newspaper’s policy appears to be this:

-- It does not name accusers in sexual-assault cases.

-- It does not name accusers in sexual-assault cases even after charges are dropped.

-- It does not name accusers in sexual-assault cases even if those accusers themselves are accused of tampering with evidence.

-- It does not name accusers in sexual-assault cases even when those accusers are sued for defamation and other wrongs.

How unfair.

Sexual assault is a crime of violence, not a crime of sex. Convicted rapists should be sent to the penitentiary for a long, long time. Rape victims should get all the help they need from doctors and counsellors and prosecutors. But offering anonymity to adult accusers and victims -- as courts and prosecutors and newspapers regularly do -- is not a good idea. It bolsters the perception that somehow a rape victim did something wrong or should be ashamed, diminishing the heinousness of the crime. It reinforces the stigma rape victims often live with.

That stigma won’t be removed until rape is identified with violence, not sex. And that won’t happen until the crime -- with all of its facts and names -- is discussed openly. It’s true that some brave and terrified women may suffer doubly when their names are a matter of record, but their bravery -- and a change in policy by prosecutors and courts and newspapers -- will ensure that in their daughters’ generation men and women and editors and prosecutors and judges will treat rape as the violent crime it is, not one tinged somehow with the absurd idea that the victim shares the guilt.

But what if the accused is not guilty?

No paper withheld the name of Bubu Palo when he was accused -- unjustly accused, as it turned out. The stories are still one-sided -- with one party named, the other not. That seems to transfer the stigma to Palo. Indeed, Palo has “suffered severe and extreme emotional distress” because of the proceedings, according to the lawsuit he filed last month in Story County District Court. And win or lose, Palo -- by all accounts a fine athlete and a fine student -- will be remembered in this state as the basketball player accused of sexual assault by a fellow but anonymous student. That anonymity -- misguidedly offered to “protect” the accuser has instead damaged the accused.

That just seems unfair.

Footnotes: Palo’s suit names Grace Breshears, the accuser’s mother as a defendant, by name, but “out of an abundance of caution and given the nature of the events set forth herein,” it refers to Hunter Elizabeth Breshears by her initials. That’s also absurd -- and seems to offer sympathy of sorts to the woman being sued, the woman whose allegations were thrown out. At any rate, Hunter Elizabeth Breshears is identified by name for all to see in the docket listings available recently on Iowa Courts Online.

I e-mailed Register Publisher Rick Green asking what the newspaper’s policy is in the naming of accusers whose accusations are thrown out of court. He didn't respond.