- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A felony insurance fraud charge filed against a former Iowa Workforce Development administrative law judge was dismissed Tuesday by a judge who concluded the state had subjected her to retaliatory and vindictive treatment.

Susan Ackerman claims she was fired in January 2015 and charged in January of this year in retaliation for complaining of a hostile work environment at IWD under former Director Teresa Wahlert, an appointee of former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.

Ackerman, 56, worked 15 years at IWD as a judge ruling on unemployment benefits cases. She was fired weeks after she and other judges testified to the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee that they faced pressure from Wahlert to favor businesses over workers in their rulings. Their concerns prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, which ordered the state to prevent judges from facing any pressure from political appointees as required by law.

Judge Robert Hanson on Tuesday dismissed the insurance fraud charge, concluding Ackerman “was subjected to retaliatory, selective, and/or vindictive treatment by the state…” But, he said he was basing his dismissal on the fact that prosecutors alleged Ackerman lied on insurance forms to give her adult daughter state health coverage in November 2013.

Charges weren’t filed until late January, more than two months past the state’s required three-year statute of limitations.

Ackerman declined to comment but her attorney, Angela Campbell, said she’s pleased the judge agreed the case was “part of a pattern of harassment and abuse of power.”

“Hopefully this will spur the legislature to strengthen protection for whistleblowers like Ms. Ackerman who put her entire career at risk to protect the rest of us from governmental overreach and abuse,” Campbell said.

Polk County Attorney John Sarcone, whose office brought the charges and planned to try the case, said he’s consulting with the state attorney general’s office about whether to appeal.

“We respectfully but strongly disagree with this decision,” he said.

Ackerman was accused of falsely certifying that her married daughter was single to make her eligible for Ackerman’s health insurance in 2013 and 2014. She denies fraudulent intent and said a human resources employee gave her permission to add her daughter, who was separated from her husband, to her insurance.

Ackerman is pursuing a lawsuit against the state, Wahlert and other supervisors at the agency, alleging wrongful discharge and that her firing was retaliation against a whistleblower.

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