It seemed like a good idea at the time when Gov. Terry Branstad asked former Chief Justice Louis Lavorato to conduct an independent review of questions surrounding the firing of an Iowa Department of Public Safety special agent. After seeing the results, it turns out to have been a waste of everybody’s time, including Lavorato’s.
The firing of former Special Agent Larry Hedlund last month naturally raised suspicions. That’s because he was the agent who first spotted the state vehicle carrying Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds traveling at a “hard 90,” and he later filed a complaint about how the incident was handled.
So the governor asked the former chief justice to review the record and publicly clear the air.
Lavorato’s report released last week fell far short of accomplishing that.
In the lawyerly fashion expected from a former judge, Lavorato’s report lays out the legal standards necessary to prove retaliation in court. After reviewing a 500-page internal affairs report by the public safety department on Hedlund, emails and other state documents, Lavorato said he found no “direct evidence of retaliation related to (Hedlund’s) actions regarding the speeding incident.”
He did not rule out the possibility that circumstantial evidence of retaliation might exist, however, and he emphasized that his report “in no way passes judgment” on whether Hedlund’s termination was justified. That, he said, is for the courts to decide when Hedlund’s wrongful termination case is heard.
In fact, Lavorato’s five-page report contains only one firm conclusion: “I am convinced no one in the governor’s office directed or interfered with the Internal Affairs’ investigation or took part in the decision to terminate Mr. Hedlund’s employment.”
Actually, few seriously thought the governor would be so foolish. That’s doesn’t mean Hedlund was not pushed out the door by superiors who thought they would be doing the governor a favor.
Such a thing will be hard to prove in court, but the people of Iowa deserve to see the evidence.
Unfortunately, the governor’s office made Lavorato sign a nondisclosure agreement.
As a result, he couldn’t reveal any of the documents he reviewed. So, the people of Iowa will have to wait until Hedund’s lawsuit is tried to see whether they agree with Lavorato’s conclusions.
That’s what should have happened in the first place.