Lawyer's son arrested in midst of ex-Iowa governor's trial

This undated photo provided by the Polk County Sheriff's Office in Des Moines, Iowa, shows, James Barton Conlin. Conlin was arrested at the Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa, on Monday, June 10, 2019 and was charged with interference with official acts when he refused to leave a courtroom where he claims he was testing the air after his mother, civil rights lawyer Roxanne Conlin complained courthouse construction tainted the air and it made her sick.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The son of an Iowa civil rights attorney who's handling a high-profile civil trial against a former governor was arrested in the courtroom where his mother's trial was taking place amid an apparent dispute over the courthouse's air quality.

Polk County sheriff's records indicate 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 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's confident 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 the air has been tested since construction began and it meets required specifications.

Conlin said the condition of the air made her sick Friday and sent her to a hospital. She was back in court Monday.

Osberg said the building's general services superintendent approached James Conlin on Monday to inquire what he was doing. Although the courthouse is a public building, it is a secure facility and people can't just 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.

James Conlin said Wednesday in a statement he believes his concerns about air quality are legitimate.

"I entered the building with an air quality technician to perform testing in good faith and with full disclosure to the officers who were on duty," he said. "I was acting peacefully, lawfully, with legitimate purpose within my rights as a potential whistleblower."

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Conlin said he looks forward to vindication in court and hopes others seek answers to questions about the courthouse air quality.

Roxanne Conlin told The Des Moines Register Tuesday she was furious about her son's arrest.

Online court filings show she asked court officials again Wednesday to relocate the trial but the documents were sealed from public view.

Court records indicate civil rights attorney Paige Fiedler has now joined Roxanne's 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.


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