Editor’s Note: This is part two of an investigation to track the amount of money charged in recent Title IX cases against Iowa State. Part one was published Feb. 16, 2018.
Iowa State has been charged $205,492.17 by Husch Blackwell to defend the university in three Title IX related lawsuits, a state discrimination lawsuit and to provide general advising in Title IX litigation.
An additional $47,500 was spent from the state litigation fund approved by the state board of appeals to settle the Taylor Niesen vs. Iowa State case.
Michael Norton, Iowa State general counsel, said the amount is not exorbitant, adding that Iowa State has received “great value” for the services of Husch Blackwell. Norton noted that the average between the four cases and advising averaged to “approximately $40,000 per matter.”
“The results we’ve gotten from that has been extraordinary,” Norton said, referencing the dismissal in the Melissa Maher vs. Iowa State case and what he described as a “very nominal settlement” in the Niesen vs. Iowa State case.
The number will grow, as Norton said he was unsure if Husch Blackwell had sent an invoice for the state discrimination lawsuit filed by Robinette Kelley and the federal lawsuit is ongoing, with trial dates set for both cases.
The trial in the federal case, first filed on October 12, 2017, is set to begin April 1, 2019 and the trial for the state lawsuit, filed on November 20, 2017, is scheduled for March 11, 2019.
Husch Blackwell first began representing Iowa State in Kelley’s state lawsuit on April 20, as a result of the Iowa Attorney General recusing themselves due to a conflict of interest. Kelley’s attorney, Thomas Newkirk, said this is because Kelley was named as a defendant in the recently-dismissed Melissa Maher vs. Iowa State case.
On Kelley’s federal lawsuit, Iowa State has accrued charges amounting to $27,914.50. In the dismissed Maher case, Iowa State had accrued charges amounting to $77,268.34. In the recently-settled Niesen case, Iowa State has accrued charges amounting to $98,052.33. Iowa State has also accrued charges amounting to $2,257 for general Title IX litigation advising.
The money to pay for Husch Blackwell’s services come from the Iowa State general fund, said Michael Norton, which in 2016, was 58.9 percent funded by tuition.
“Just the way litigation works, you know, these cases all are resulting from alleged conduct that occurred many years ago, even before I was here even,” Norton said. “I’ve been here for almost two years.”
Alleged incidents ranged from 2013 to 2015 in the Kelley cases. Niesen was sexually assaulted in 2015 and Maher was sexually assaulted in 2014. Maher’s suit was filed September 9, 2016 and Niesen’s was filed March 6, 2017.
Norton said the university has no option but to draw from tuition dollars when defending against lawsuits.
“There really is no alternative,” Norton said. “If someone sues the university, the only alternative is to protect the assets of the university by responding to the lawsuit and you can see where that response is critical to protecting university assets.”
Norton noted recent multi-million dollar lawsuits against the University of Iowa, one of which Newkirk was involved in as an attorney.
While Norton said Iowa State has recently taken steps in an effort to prevent sexual assaults and improve university responses, he said the changes are not tied directly to these cases.
Newkirk said he is encouraged by efforts Iowa State is taking, including the new Green Dot violence prevention program and mandatory Title IX training for students, faculty and staff. He said he believes Iowa State is using information from these cases to improve practices.
“When our clients bring claims, whether it’s Taylor or Robin or other people, not against Iowa State, but also against Iowa… all the time we put in our lawsuits, or try to put in our lawsuits, methodology to make improvements to fix the problems and make it more about fixing the problems than it is about paying 10 million dollars,” Newkirk said.