November 21, 2013

Second VanWeelden trial a speedy process

The Oskaloosa Herald


Mahaska County Supervisor Henry “Willie” VanWeelden’s second trial took much less time than his first.

That’s not entirely a surprise. The first involved a jury, but the second was a bench trial. Bench trials take place in front of just a judge, which can speed things up.

When attorneys disagree over statements or evidence, their arguments may not be appropriate for jurors to hear. If the arguments are detailed or take extensive time to present, jurors may have to be sent from the courtroom to prevent them from being exposed to things that aren’t, ultimately, part of the evidence they can consider.

Van Weelden was charged with insurance fraud — conspiracy to present false evidence, theft, felony misconduct in office and tampering with records. He was convicted in February 2012 after a weeklong trial.

The case centered on whether he improperly added his wife, Bonnie, to the county’s insurance.

VanWeelden took Bonnie off the county’s insurance in 2004, according to court records. He submitted paperwork to put her back on the insurance in 2008, but the county’s insurer denied it. VanWeelden added her to the insurance later that year, after he was re-elected.

Newly-elected supervisors and their families can join the insurance based on their election to county office. VanWeelden contended the same applied to supervisors who were re-elected. He said a majority of supervisors (himself and Supervisor Lawrence Rouw) agreed on that point. Rouw disavowed that position in his testimony during the trial.

VanWeelden sought a new trial after the conviction. The district court agreed based on a newly-discovered recording of the supervisors’ April 6, 2009, meeting. That meeting included an extensive discussion of the insurance issue.

The Iowa Court of Appeals quotes Rouw as saying during the meeting that, “a re-elected official would be the same as a newly elected official.” That statement contradicted Rouw’s testimony and was not available for jurors at the original trial.

Senior Judge Dan Morrison presided at the retrial. Records available Wednesday afternoon did not reflect him reaching a verdict.