MUSCATINE — A final ruling on Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson's removal from office will be stalled until the Iowa Supreme Court decides whether to hear the city of Muscatine's appeal.
On Monday, a state Supreme Court judge granted a stay of district court rulings, which required the city to provide Broderson with the transcripts of five closed session meetings. The district court judge previously reviewed the minutes and ordered they be used as evidence in the mayor's appeal.
Now, the Iowa Supreme Court will decide whether to rule on the closed sessions or have the district court proceed with the case.
Despite being impeached earlier this year by her fellow council members, Broderson will continue to stay in office as mayor until the court case is decided or her term ends, whichever comes first.
City Council v. Mayor
The Muscatine City Council voted Broderson out of office in May and she was reinstated by a district court judge about a month later. She is appealing the council's removal in district court, in which a judge decided the transcripts of five closed session meetings are relevant to the case and should be used as evidence.
The city, including City Administrator Gregg Mandsager, has been fighting to keep the closed sessions confidential. The meetings were held to discuss Broderson's actions in office, as well as future litigation. Mandsager claimed two of the meetings also involved a discussion of his job performance, and if they were to be released, they could damage his reputation.
After reviewing the transcripts, the judge decided the closed sessions are relevant, and, on Aug. 31, issued a protective order, meaning the transcripts will not be released to the public. The city was ordered to provide Broderson and her lawyers with the transcripts immediately. As of this week, Broderson has not received copies of the meeting minutes.
Last week, Muscatine requested an appeal in state Supreme Court, saying the district court "abused its discretion" by ruling the closed sessions be used as evidence. The city hopes the Supreme Court will reverse the ruling.
Patrick Bauer, a Professor of Law at the University of Iowa, said the Supreme Court could either refuse or accept the appeal. Interlocutory appeals, Bauer said, are common when a "serious consequential decision" is made before the final ruling.
"The thought is maybe waiting until the end [of the case] is penny-wise and pound-foolish," he said. "For example, if it's 'cat out of the bag' stuff, or stuff that shouldn't be made public and then is. If two years from now, the court says it shouldn't have been made public, then you can't undo the harm."
The Iowa Supreme Court will determine if the district court was right in requesting the closed sessions be turned over to Broderson. Part of the decision, Bauer said, is determining the severity of the consequences before the minutes are released.
"If [the court] is certain the (ruling) was OK, they might deny the review and let matters go on (in district court)," he said. "The mayor would be happier if they denied the review, and the city council would be sad. But it certainly doesn't tell anything determinative of how [the final ruling] will come out."
Bauer said another issue is the delaying of court proceedings, possibly until after the Nov. 7 election, in which Broderson is seeking re-election. If Broderson is re-elected before a final ruling is made, the decision could become moot.
"There could be an issue if it's decided she shouldn't have been removed from office," he said. "It's like the classic 'Humpty Dumpty' problem, where you can't make matters right again."
If Broderson were to be re-elected, and later the judge decides the city council's removal of the mayor was constitutional, Bauer said there is still a question of whether the lawsuit is viable to Broderson's second term.
And if the mayor loses the election, and then an injunction is issued ordering Broderson out of office, Bauer said that ruling would also, in effect, be moot.
"Timing is everything, right? That's the lesson of this," Bauer said.
By granting a stay, the city will not yet be required to send Broderson the closed session transcripts. The Supreme Court will decide whether to accept the city's appeal, and if it does, would issue a ruling on the transcripts.