Linn's auditor and county attorney now mix it up

Joel Miller files an ethics complaint against Vander Sanden

Rick Smith
Published: March 3 2014 | 4:26 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:07 am in

CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County Auditor Joel Miller is now mixing it up with Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden as well as the Board of Supervisors.

The latest dispute in Linn County government centers on Miller’s questioning of Vander Sanden about the county attorney’s employment of an assistant county attorney who is not licensed to practice law in Iowa.

Miller, who came on the matter in a review of Vander Sanden’s staff, now has filed an ethics complaint against Vander Sanden with the Attorney Disciplinary Board of the Iowa Supreme Court, a matter that will take a few to several months to resolve.

The immediate "extremely unfortunate" result is that the dispute between Miller and Vander Sanden will require the Board of Supervisors to spend taxpayer money to employ a private attorney to represent Miller’s office until the matter is resolved, Supervisor John Harris has said.

Harris said the county attorney has more important matters to deal with than Miller’s allegation, adding that Vander Sanden is as ethical as attorneys come.

For his part, Vander Sanden has told the supervisors that the assistant Linn County Attorney in question, Lisa Williams, works in his office as part of a long-standing arrangement that the Linn County Attorney’s Office has with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa. The cost of her salary is paid by a federal grant administered through the county. She only practices law in federal court, not Iowa courts, and handles narcotics cases investigated with the help of local law enforcement officers, Vander Sanden has told the supervisors.

Miller agreed that Williams is an attorney licensed to practice law in federal court, but he said he believes she also should be licensed to practice in Iowa if she holds the title of assistant Linn County Attorney.

Miller on Monday said he also disagreed with Vander Sanden and the supervisors on the need for his office to use an outside private attorney just because he has filed the ethics complaint against Vander Sanden.

In recent weeks, the supervisors and Miller have gone back and forth over the minutes of supervisors’ meetings that Miller’s office records and publishes in the legal notices of newspapers.

The supervisors typically approve the minutes before they are published, and the supervisors took exception when they learned that the published minutes often are shorter than the minutes that they approve.

On Monday, Miller pushed ahead to publish lengthy minutes from the board’s Feb. 24 meeting without board approval because the board is not meeting this week.

Miller said his interpretation of state law requires him to move ahead to publish minutes a week after the board adjourns from a meeting. However, he said he can’t ask Vander Sanden’s office for legal advice on the matter because Vander Sanden and the supervisors have concluded that Vander Sanden now has a conflict of interest with Miller’s office until Miller’s ethical inquiry against Vander Sanden is resolved.

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