One charge dropped, prosecutor changed in former Floyd County employee alleged theft case
By Bob Steenson, [email protected]
The case of a former Floyd County Attorney’s Office employee charged with theft and credit card fraud continues with the most serious charge dismissed, a new special prosecutor appointed and the defendant representing herself.
Janelle Herrmann of Charles City, the former victim and witness coordinator for the Floyd County Attorney’s Office, was originally charged with ongoing criminal conduct, a Class B felony; second-degree theft, a Class D felony; and credit card fraud, an aggravated misdemeanor; after a February 2021 audit report by the Iowa Auditor of State Office alleged improper financial actions.
Herrmann was identified in the state audit report as allegedly being involved in “$1,524.40 of improper disbursements, $113.47 of unsupported disbursements, and $313.00 of undeposited collections” involving funds for the Floyd County Sexual Assault Response Team.
The audit was performed by the state office at the request of Floyd County officials. Charges against Herrmann were filed by the Floyd County Attorney’s Office on June 30, 2021. Herrmann had been terminated from her employment with the County Attorney’s Office on May 4, 2020.
Herrmann had been represented in the case by various private attorneys, but beginning in December 2021, she began filing her own motions in the case, acting pro se – representing herself.
At first, one of the judges in the case, District Court Judge James Drew, advised Herrmann’s attorneys that while she was being represented by counsel only counsel could file motions. Then Herrmann’s current attorneys moved that they be allowed to withdraw from the case, and Drew granted that motion.
Herrmann then refiled her motion to appear pro se, and also filed a motion asking the court to assign an attorney to act as standby counsel to advise her.
Originally, Floyd County Attorney Rachel Ginbey had asked the court to appoint Hancock County Attorney Blake Norman as a special prosecutor in the case, since Herrmann had worked for Ginbey and Ginbey was likely to be a witness in the case.
In one of her motions, Herrmann had moved that a new special prosecutor be appointed, alleging that Ginbey, Norman and their spouses were all close personal friends who socialized together frequently.
“There is something structurally problematic about the role of the state’s main witness in this matter being allowed to choose someone she considers to be one of her closest friends as the special prosecutor in this matter,” Herrmann wrote. “The idea that the state’s witness be allowed to hand-pick the special prosecutor in this matter is extremely prejudicial to the defendant and a violation of the defendant’s right to due process. …”
Even though the judge had not considered Herrmann’s motion for a new special prosecutor because she had filed it while still being represented by counsel, Norman addressed the charge in a response he filed to several of Herrmann’s motions.
“Most of the allegations contained within defendant’s motion are inaccurate or untruthful. We were co-workers at Cerro Gordo for approximately 2 years prior to her election to the Floyd County Attorney in 2014. I am friends with Ms. Ginbey through my work relationship and have spent time with her and her family outside of work, although that was primarily when I practiced in the Cerro Gordo office,” Norman wrote.
“None of the defendant’s due process rights have been affected or affected plea negotiations. The defendant is facing multiple felony and misdemeanor charges. The state offered a misdemeanor offense and would agree to a deferred judgment being entered,” Norman wrote.
A dozen different court documents were filed last week on Feb. 1, marking dramatic changes in the case, including one signed by District Court Judge Gregg Rosenbladt saying that Herrmann would be allowed to proceed pro se, and that the court “will endeavor to appoint standby counsel for the defendant.”
In another document, Norman filed an application to amend the charges against Herrmann, asking that the Class B felony count one, ongoing criminal conduct – the most serious of the charges – be dismissed to “more accurately reflect” the criminal offenses committed.
“This dismissal is being made (to) prevent confusion of the issues, not made for any timeline issues and to allow additional potential attorney to represent defendant as standby counsel,” Norman wrote.
Rosenbladt approved amending the charges, dismissing count one.
In another document, Rosenbladt wrote that Herrmann had indicated she would withdraw the motion for a different special prosecutor to be appointed, but Norman had indicated he had to withdraw anyway, rendering the item moot.
Norman later filed a motion asking to be allowed to withdraw as special prosecutor because his time was being taken up acting as special prosecutor for all the Winnebago County legal matters. Norman said the Cerro Gordo county attorney had agreed to take over as special prosecutor.
Also in documents filed Feb. 1, Rosenbladt ordered that the trial that had been set for Feb. 15 in district court be rescheduled on the district associate court schedule since the severity of the remaining charges was a Class D felony and an aggravated misdemeanor, extended the deadline for Herrmann to file motions and complete depositions, discussed several matters having to do with standby counsel, and ruled on requests for discovery.
Later that day, District Associate Judge Peter Newell scheduled the jury trial to begin Thursday, Feb. 17.
On Tuesday this week, Newell ordered a pretrial hearing be held next Tuesday, Feb. 15, to clear up the role of standby counsel to Herrmann.
Part of Herrmann’s duties as the Floyd County victim and witness coordinator had been to participate in the county Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), a partnership of the Floyd County Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, Charles City Police Department, Floyd County Medical Center and Crisis Intervention Service.
A review of SART financial activity by a representative of the Sheriff’s Office had allegedly identified possible undeposited collections and personal purchases made by Herrmann with SART funds. It was also allegedly discovered that Herrmann had acquired a debit card linked to the checking account without County Attorney Ginbey’s knowledge, the report said.
Included in a bill of particulars Norman filed in the case, listing 32 alleged acts that constitute the second-degree theft charge, are more than $1,800 in alleged thefts that include more than $900 in ATM withdrawals and fees, several charges at Diamond Jo Casino near Northwood, charges at area retail and grocery stores, and $288 in T-shirt sales from a fundraiser that were allegedly not deposited in the SART account.
All of the alleged acts of credit card fraud are also in the theft list, and total more than $1,250 in transactions allegedly using a SART debit card.
Ginbey and Herrmann “were the only individuals with access to the SART account, but Ms. Herrmann was responsible for handling all transactions associated with the account,” the state auditor’s report said.
“SART financial activity is separately maintained from the County Attorney’s Office’s financial activity. Because SART is considered a separate entity from Floyd County, financial transactions are not part of the county’s accounting system,” the report said.