DES MOINES — The son of an Iowa civil rights attorney who is handling a high-profile civil trial involving a former governor was arrested in the courtroom where his mother was working amid an apparent dispute over the courthouse’s air quality.
Polk County Sheriff’s Office records indicate that James Barton Conlin, 50, of West Des Moines, was arrested Monday and charged with interference with official acts. The arrest came during a break in the trial, after a building official questioned Conlin’s activity inside the courtroom.
Conlin told the building’s general services superintendent that he was testing the air quality, according to Polk County Sheriff’s Lt. Heath Osberg. However, Conlin is not an authorized vendor, Osberg said, so the official asked Conlin to leave. He was arrested after he refused, Osberg said.
Conlin’s mother, Roxanne Conlin, is representing former Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey, who is suing former Iowa. Gov. Terry Branstad, the state and two of Branstad’s former staff members alleging discrimination based on sexual preference and political affiliation.
Roxanne Conlin has raised concerns about the air quality in the historic Polk County Courthouse, which is undergoing major renovations, but the district’s chief judge has refused to move the trial.
James Conlin was booked into the Polk County Jail and released less than an hour later. The charge he faces is a simple misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail.
Roxanne Conlin filed a motion last month to move the trial. The request has been sealed by the court, but Chief Judge Michael Huppert’s order responding to her request reveals that she complained about the courthouse’s air quality. Temporary walls have been installed in an effort to isolate the active courtrooms and offices from the construction.
In his May 21 decision, Huppert said he is confident that the air quality is more than adequate and that Conlin’s request to move the trial “is neither reasonable nor appropriate under the circumstances presented.”
Polk County General Services Director John Rowen said that the air has been tested since construction began and that it meets required specifications.
Conlin said the condition of the air made her sick Friday and caused her to go to a hospital. She was back in court Monday.
Osberg said the building’s general services superintendent approached James Conlin on Monday to ask what he was doing. Although the courthouse is a public building, it is a secure facility and people can’t do anything they want, Osberg said, adding that there are ways Conlin could have gone about testing the air if he’d worked with the courthouse officials.
“He wasn’t an authorized vendor with general services for doing that type of work at the courthouse, so that’s why he was asked to leave, and then he refused and that’s what led to the arrest,” Osberg said.
Roxanne Conlin and her son didn’t respond to a message from the Associated Press. She told the Des Moines Register on Tuesday that she was furious about her son’s arrest and planned to ask court officials again to relocate the trial.
Court records indicate that civil rights attorney Paige Fiedler has now joined Roxanne Conlin’s team in representing Godfrey in the trial, which is expected to last at least a month. An eight-member jury is hearing the case.