A Man Accused of Sex Abuse is Free Due to the Prosecutor's Drinking Problem

Elected officials must be mindful that their indiscretions can have very public consequences.



An Iowa prosecutor's indiscretions have shown that the actions of elected officials can have very serious consequences for the public.

Clarke County Attorney Michelle Rivera has been a county attorney since 2011 and has handled thousands of cases. (For reference, the county saw 3,800 cases in 2018.) On October 18, Sheriff's Deputy George Barber III noticed Rivera "slurring her words and stumbling on her feet." Upon smelling alcohol on her and her refusal to take a breath test, Barber arrested Rivera for "public intoxication."

On the same day she was arrested, Dennis Michael Simmerman, an Iowa man who was accused of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy, was prepared to enter a guilty plea and be sentenced for his crime. Because Rivera was arrested moments before the hearing, she was a no-show in court. Marshall Orsini, Simmerman's attorney, had previously complained of delays in the trial.

In December, Rivera was similarly arrested for operating while intoxicated after deputies received a call of an erratic driver who ran a stop sign and pulled into the Clarke County Courthouse. Rivera was also charged with child endangerment.

On Monday, Judge Marti Mertz ruled in favor of Simmerman's release. Mertz wrote, "The county attorney's unavailability at the last hearing was the finale following unexplained periods of inactivity and lack of responsiveness." Orsini reacted similarly, saying that the case against Simmerman was eligible for dismissal after the prosecution waited over a year to take him to trial.

Though Simmerman admitted to the child sex abuse, he cannot be tried again under the same charges. Additionally, the thousands of cases previously handled by Rivera could now face a review.

Rivera lost her reelection bid in November.

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  1. If a presecutor doesn’t do their job, guilty people end up going free and victims and society at large is deprived of justice. If you don’t like having that responsibility, go find a different line of work.

  2. And yet the idea of public officials facing consequences is newsworthy in the man-bites-dog vein and the consequences still generally range from a warning to a stern reprimand to a paid vacation with the capital punishment of actually losing your job reserved for the very worst criminal conduct.

  3. Meh, sometimes the court system works.

    If the state “fails to prosecute”, a presumed-innocent person should be released.

    1. In this case the defendant did plead guilty (although we know that not everyone who pleads guilty actually is).

  4. And she lost her election bid? Sounds like she should be disbarred, too.

    1. She was drunk driving after being arrested for showing up drunk to court? Remove her from the bar before putting her behind bars to keep her out of bars.

      1. Feed her to the b’ars.

  5. I’ve known of several lawyers, including a former federal prosecutor, who attended elite universities and law schools and who now are having to confront their alcoholism that they are in middle age. Not because they failed to do their jobs but because it was impacting their families and marriages-one collapsed at his kid’s birthday party, the other fell down the stairs on his way to bed and got a pretty bad concussion. Boozing on the job is completely acceptable among those in the legal profession and politics.

    1. Not because they failed to do their jobs

      More precisely, no one called them out for failing to do their jobs.

      1. Because they were drunk, too.

  6. Zrui Davis… not on the NAMBLA bandwagon? Check.

    *scowls over glasses at ENB*

  7. If you can’t do your job while shitfaced, you are a fucking amateur drunk.

    1. I do my best coding while drunk.

      1. I do my best show tunes.

  8. “Simmerman admitted to the child sex abuse, he cannot be tried again under the same charges”

    Don’t worry, he’ll be back.

  9. So to clarify, the confessed sex offender gets off not merely because the prosecutor was drunk but because she wasted a year bringing the case to trial in the first place. I’m sorry for this guy’s victims but it’s probably more important to get rid of the incompetent prosecutor.

  10. Why is this prosecute still employed? It this has been an on going situation of intoxication so this person should have been canned if the drinking problem could not be overcome.

  11. Well, if we can just keep 1 person off a sex offender registry, we should get all the lawyers in the world drunk. Or at least get the sex offenders drunk. Something like that.

  12. I’d probably have a substance abuse issue, too, if I had to handle 3800 cases/year, apparently without the benefit of any ADAs.

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