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.