- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 23, 2016

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - After Iowa lawyer Raymond Tinnian was found guilty of disorderly conduct, investigators had an obvious suspect when jurors and witnesses started receiving threats. Other than Tinnian, who else would leave a type-written note threatening to kill a juror for “your verdict”?

But Tinnian alleges in a federal lawsuit filed Monday that investigators rushed to judgment, were fooled by his longtime enemy and arrested and charged the wrong man. Tinnian, who was acquitted last year, contends that investigators ignored and withheld evidence that suggested Thomas Harbit framed Tinnian for the jury tampering.

Tinnian, a criminal defense lawyer based in Kalona, is suing Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness, an assistant and two Coralville police officers for allegedly violating his civil rights. He says he was wrongly arrested, had his home illegally searched and spent 16 days in jail on a $100,000 cash-only bond after they falsely accused him and failed to investigate Harbit. He’s seeking to be compensated for his humiliation and loss in income along with punitive damages.

Lyness declined to comment. Harbit, who hasn’t been charged, didn’t return a message.

Tinnian and Harbit once worked together at the Coralville law office of Dennis Bjorklund, a notoriously unethical attorney who represented drunken driving defendants. Harbit, a substance abuse counselor, and Bjorklund had an improper arrangement in which they conducted sham substance abuse evaluations and charged excessive fees. Tinnian reported their ethical violations, leading to the suspension of Harbit’s counseling license and disbarment of Bjorklund for fraud in 2006. Bjorklund was indicted in 2010 on charges that he defrauded clients and evaded taxes and spent five years running from the FBI until his capture last year.

Tinnian alleges that Bjorklund and Harbit tried to ruin his life after he testified against them. His tires were slashed. His neighbors received anonymous flyers accusing him of being a sex offender. Harbit filed dozens of frivolous lawsuits and ethics complaints that made outlandish allegations against Tinnian. Even nastier claims showed up anonymously online that Tinnian, who works as a contract public defender, says destroyed his reputation.

In 2014, Tinnian was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct after a physical altercation with Coralville resident Alan Swack while walking his dog. He represented himself at trial, where jurors found him guilty. Harbit followed the proceedings, writing a rambling note to the judge against Tinnian.

Jurors received letters claiming to be from Tinnian asking that they overturn their verdict. After juror Joyce Meyer complained to court officials about the letter, someone spraypainted the words “JUSTICE” and “GUILTY” on her garage and left a type-written note threatening to kill her. Swack and another witness had their tires slashed, found obscenities spraypainted on their homes and garages and received threatening letters.

Tinnian told Coralville police that he had no involvement and suggested Harbit as a suspect, alleging he’d faced very similar harassment in the past.

Police obtained records showing Tinnian’s cellphone was in Kalona when Meyer’s home was vandalized 25 miles away. Nonetheless, prosecutors obtained search and arrest warrants charging Tinnian with witness tampering. Tinnian was jailed until he could post bond, then released under strict supervision.

Jurors acquitted Tinnian last year after he argued Harbit was responsible. After the acquittal, Judge Kirk Daily ruled that investigators had included “false and reckless information” in Tinnian’s search warrant application, saying they lacked probable cause.

“It appears that the state was so convinced that Tinnian, had, in fact, committed these acts that they bypassed investigating whether they had actual evidence,” Daily wrote.

Agents had in December 2014 searched homes connected to Harbit looking for evidence he might have been responsible for the threats. They found he was in possession of Tinnian’s credit report, had repeatedly searched online for “Raymond Tinnian” and had a Facebook chat with Tinnian’s ex-wife in which they discussed ways to destroy his life. That information was turned over to Tinnian months later, just days before his trial.


Follow Ryan J. Foley at https://twitter.com/rjfoley

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