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October 30, 2013

Judge: Ex-Iowa agent's records claim can proceed

The Associated Press

DES MOINES — A legal action that claims Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration illegally shared an investigative report about the firing of a criminal investigator can proceed, a judge has ruled.

Judge Larry McLellan in Des Moines decided Monday to reject the state’s request to dismiss the petition filed by former Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Larry Hedlund.

The petition challenges the decision to share a 500-page investigative report related to Hedlund’s employment with former Iowa Chief Justice Louis Lavorato. Branstad appointed Lavorato in August to review Hedlund’s highly publicized claims of wrongful termination and retaliation.

The petition seeks a $2,500 fine against the Department of Public Safety’s records custodian and other remedies.

State officials gave Lavorato a copy of Hedlund’s disciplinary report after he signed a document agreeing not to release its contents. Lavorato later concluded that neither Branstad nor anyone in his office was involved in Hedlund’s removal from duty and firing.

Hedlund’s superiors put him on leave in May, days after Hedlund pursued a trooper who was speeding while transporting Branstad and complained internally about the incident.

The department fired Hedlund in July, alleging he was insubordinate and disrespectful. Hedlund, a 25-year department employee, has denied those allegations and claimed that he was wrongly terminated for blowing the whistle on the governor’s speeding and other alleged misconduct. He has brought a separate lawsuit to pursue that claim.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office had asked McLellan to dismiss the records petition in August, saying Lavorato was an agent of the state and therefore giving him access to the report was proper.

McLellan said it was not appropriate to dismiss the petition at this preliminary stage of the proceedings, saying it asserts facts that could succeed in obtaining relief if proven. He said the state could renew its arguments in later legal motions or at trial.

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