Public Safety

Trial starts next week for architect accused of covertly taping employee pumping breast milk

Robert Carlson
Robert Carlson

IOWA CITY — The trial for an Iowa City architect accused of secretly videotaping an employee pumping breast milk will start Tuesday, barring any coronavirus issues.

Leon Spies, lawyer for Robert Carlson, 68, charged with 22 counts of invasion of privacy, told a judge Friday during a pretrial hearing that someone at his law practice had been exposed to COVID-19 by a family member but so far, had tested negative. He just wanted to make the court aware, in case that status changes by Tuesday.

Assistant Johnson County Attorney Rachel Zimmermann Smith said she also wanted to make the judge aware that one of her witnesses may have been exposed to the virus by a family member and those test results aren’t available until Monday.

Sixth Judicial Associate District Judge Deb Minot said the witness could always testify by video, if possible, and if the defense had no objections. They would deal with both situations when test results become available.

Spies said he had concerns about having the trial in a smaller courtroom. He feels it’s “not safe” because there’s limited seating and ventilation.

Minot said she chose that courtroom because it is easier to hear, as opposed to the larger courtroom, which has poor acoustics because of the vaulted ceiling. There is also newer technology — two large screens to view video recordings — in this courtroom, which was renovated in the last few years.

She said she didn’t disagree with Spies but the court has to deal with the limited space in the historic building and make sure the coronavirus protocols and measures are followed. This will be the first jury trial in Johnson County, so Minot said “we are figuring out as we go.”

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The Iowa Supreme Court set out certain requirements such as social distancing and wearing masks and/or face shields, and recommendations to follow when they resumed jury trials last month.

Minot plans to come in over the weekend and measure the jurors’ chairs for social distancing, which will not fit 12 jurors and two alternates in the jury box and will have to extend into the gallery area — where spectators sit. She also will arrange the attorneys’ tables to face the jury.

There will be limited seating for the public at this trial, Minot said.

The jury selection will be in the bigger courtroom and they will have two sessions because not all 50 in the jury pool can come in the courthouse at the same time.

Minot said the jurors also will deliberate in one of the courtrooms, instead of the normal jury room, which is small.

Carlson is accused of viewing and videotaping the employee’s exposed breasts while pumping breast milk, so evidence of adult pornography and research on voyeurism and hidden cameras found on his computer is relevant and will be allowed at trial, Minot ruled earlier this month.

A criminal complaint showed Carlson told police he thought the employee, Jessica Clark, was “very beautiful and wanted to see what was underneath the (her) blouse or shirt.”

“The female victim did not consent to these recordings and had a reasonable expectation of privacy while in the room pumping breast milk,” according to the complaint.

Clark sued Carlson and the Carlson Design Team in May 2018, alleging sexual harassment, sex discrimination, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The suit has been settled, but there are no details in public court records of the settlement.

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Clark found the recording device Dec. 18, 2018, in the architectural firm’s conference room, where she had been pumping breast milk.

Police obtained a search warrant for the firm’s office and Carlson’s house. Police said they seized electronic devices as part of their search. Those devices contained 22 videos of incidents where Clark was pumping breast milk, police said.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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