Prosecutor, commissioner charge misconduct on part of top county GOP official

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

MOUND CITY – On the defensive after the Linn County News publisher printed in graphic detail an affidavit outlining the sexual assault of a child in the trial of Lonnie Shane Martin, County Attorney Burton Harding, a Republican, went on the offensive during the Linn County Commission meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Charging that News publisher Jackie Taylor had been working covertly with former County Attorney James Brun, Harding charged that Taylor had been working to undermine the effectiveness of his office and the Sixth Judicial Court District.

A full transcript of Burton’s statement is on the Linn County Journal’s website this week under “Opinions.” The Journal is also working on a more detailed story about the Martin case as well as other cases.

Harding charged that, because Taylor, who is also the chair of the Linn County Republican Party, supported Brun in his bid for re-election in 2020, she was intentionally printing stories that would undermine the public’s faith in his office.

Commission Chair Rick James asked where the Martin case was going next. Harding said his office is looking at other agencies that might take it on and get it beyond the scrutiny of his office.

Criticism of Taylor did not end there. After listening to Harding’s complaints, Commission Chair Rick James, a Republican, launched into his own criticism of Taylor.

James said that he had talked with Taylor last Friday, Sept. 3, about the attachment that had been posted on Facebook on the child abuse case. James reported that Taylor said she did not put that attachment and that article out there, but it was still there.

James said that it really frustrated him because he was remembering when Linn County Commissioners Danny McCullough and Mike Page were discussing the health department protest last year during the early stages of the pandemic.

James said he thought that the march last year was relatively peaceful except for the phone calls made to the doctor and nurse involved. “I think we all forget that we are humans and human beings have relatives and family members that go through this as well as the they do.”

James said the doctor’s life and the nurse’s life were threatened and there were protests in front of their houses.

James pointed out that the protest against the health department caused the doctor, Jay Allen, who had served the county for free for almost 20 years, to resign. The commissioner pointed out that Allen’s volunteering saved the county tens of thousands of dollars.

After Allen resigned, the county had to pay a company to do the doctor’s work, he said.

James said that the Linn County News was again promoting protest, this time about the Martin case. That protest is scheduled for Friday in Mound City.

He also took issue with a lawsuit that was filed by the Linn County News and another local business owner about county orders to require businesses to document their customer names, telephone numbers and the date and time of their arrivals and departures. this information was to be used in contact tracing which is a strategy of identifying people who may have come in contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

He said the lawsuit, which he called “frivolous,” was dropped, but ended up costing the county tens of thousands of dollars to settle it. James said Taylor had told him that it would not cost the county if the lawsuit was filed.

But James pointed out that county money was paid out to insurance companies to research the lawsuit, and none of it went to County Counselor Gary Thompson.

“I thought the election was over in November, but apparently it’s going to drag all the way through July,” James told Harding. “I know she’s tried to discredit you.”

“I know she didn’t like you, and I know she said she didn’t want you to win,” James told Harding. There was another attorney who was going to run but decided not to.

“When you threw your name in there, you were dead meat.” James told Harding.

James commended Harding for running against the local newspaper, against the Republican chairperson, against someone who was financing his opponent’s election with $20,000 to $30,000, and against a constant barrage of articles. He called the actions of Taylor despicable.

“And I am really, really fed up with it,” stated James.

James said that during the election process, he didn’t know what Republicans were thinking when they elected her as their committee chairperson.

“She not only writes for the paper but she’s the chairperson for the Republican Committee, so she’s the fox in the chicken house, and she can do whatever she wants,” said James.

James pointed out how important it was to the community for people to run for precinct committee people. When no one runs, those open seats are appointed by the Republican chair.

James said that he had realized the importance of the committee people during the selection process for sheriff when Paul Filla retired and the committee had to fill it. Because several people were unable to attend that night, they were given the option to do a sealed vote and return it to the committee. But the votes were not cast.

Those specific instructions on how to vote if you were absent were thrown out by, not Jackie Taylor, but by the Republican person in charge of collecting those votes that night, said James. That election was very close and I am not saying that Linn County Sheriff Kevin Friend would not have won either way but the point I am making is that those committee people’s votes were thrown out.

James said that he was upset that Taylor did not say that she was wrong.

“I would ask that we do not have her as our committee person. I hope that she resigns the office because if there is not a conflict of interest there I don’t know what a conflict of interest is,” said James.

James told Harding that even though he won like 70 percent of the vote, we are still talking about silliness like this, said James. Not the silliness of the case but the silliness of the politics that are involved in it.

“I hope she resigns from that position, I don’t think she belongs in that position and that’s a personal view,” said James. “From your speech and your readings there, I am just sick and tired and I am glad there is a new newspaper here, it’s online, hopefully that will change.

James said he was glad the commission now had cameras recording their meetings so that everyone that wants to view it now or later can, and it is not just a Linn County News perception of what goes on here.

“It’s disgusting, I’m sick of it, and I don’t want to have anything to do with it, so I am done ranting and raving,” said James.

Taylor was not at the meeting. However in a statement sent via email, she said, "The comments made by Mr. Harding and the commissioners at the meeting were eye-opening, and I appreciate them. My staff and I are discussing how we proceed."

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