by Sondra Wilson. Updated 3/15/23.
Did you know that an estimated 92% of low-income Americans are unable to find legal assistance for civil matters?! To complicate matters and make justice further out of reach, the Iowa Court Rules (and Federal Rules) are so complex that it is extremely difficult to take a case yourself without the help of an attorney!
To illustrate “how difficult finding help” is, I’ve kept a log of my “Quest for Justice” below – attorneys, law firms, legal aid organizations, advocacy groups, and government agencies I’ve sought help from since the time the following incidents occurred:
Note that I am unsure if legal assistance is this difficult for everyone to find – or if it is because I’m transgender. It is possible that some attorneys may not want to risk their reputation via representing me against a business.
The Quest for Justice:
After multiple phone conversations referred me to www.IowaFindALawyer.com, I contacted the following defamation attorneys from that site:
HOW DO YOU BELIEVE YOU WERE DISCRIMINATED AGAINST OR HARASSED?*
“A false complaint was filed against me by a female employee that I was “violating her space”, and Reliable Street’s CEO kicked me off the property (on Transgender Day of Visibility) based on that complaint. They would not tell me who complained nor what I allegedly did, and frankly after finding out who complained, the slanderous complaint holds no merit. I believe I was discriminated against because they believed a non-transgender woman, and chose to punish me based upon stereotypical complaints about trans women “violating womens’ spaces”. After filing a complaint against the company with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC), the CEO and her friend issued several lies about me in order to try to justify their actions, stating that I “said racist comments”, “did the work without permission”, “was stalking and harassing a female employee”, “cornered the CEO” and other atrocious accusations.”
PLEASE PROVIDE A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE ISSUE(S)
“I performed ~20 hrs of labor per week for ~6 months prior to being kicked off the property. It was completely out of the blue, and people who witnessed it have told me they would testify.
One of the CEO’s friends, Charlie Esker, has an art studio on Reliable Street’s property, and they sell art at Reliable Street’s art gallery. They are also the female employee’s best friend. Esker submitted false, slanderous statements against me to the ICRC, claiming they were a mere “patron”. The ICRC is not aware that Esker was lying to them: they are not a mere patron.
I have many photos, text messages, and detailed accounts of the incident, including text messages from the employee who complained which indicate she was not being truthful in her original complaint against me.
I do not believe the Civil Rights Commission should have dropped my case, however they did as a result of Esker and the CEO’s slanderous statements about me which I believe were made to try to cover their asses.
I have reason to believe that the people involved lied to other employees and community members about me. Many of them go to the same establishments and parties I go to, and I am very, very concerned that my reputation is adversely affected based on what they have said about me. They come across as a petty clique to me.”
IS THERE ANY OTHER INFORMATION WE NEED TO KNOW BEFORE WE CONTACT YOU?*
“I was not sure how much to include in my previous responses. Both asked for “brief descriptions” so I tried to keep it short. However, there are many nuanced details and evidence I can provide you with which I believe expose what has happened here. I really hope you can help me with this. I feel “currently affected” by this very much. One of the Lockwood employees saw me downtown the other night, and based on the look on her face, I believe she heard something negative about me. That really sucks because she was my friend.
You are the last attorney from the Iowa Bar Association website that I have contacted. Every other one has “too many cases” or is “too far away” to help. I feel the Civil Rights Commission could have been more thorough, and every legal aid society I’ve contacted “can’t take fee-generating cases”. I’m getting to the point where I feel my only option is to write about everything publicly because I haven’t been to find help thus far.”
Via the recommendation of Rob Sand, whom I met at “Coffee with the Candidate” in Nevada Iowa on 10-22-2022, I contacted Trial Lawyers for Justice the following day on 10-23-2022: “After volunteering for a local nonprofit ~6 months, under the impression everyone was very happy with my work and me, I was unexpectedly barred from the property following a false complaint against me by an employee of a neighboring business who was also involved in the work I was performing.
I wrote a letter to the owners, but received no response to I filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. However, they dropped my case after the CEO of the nonprofit and her friend, in retaliation for me filing with the commission, wrote several extremely damaging lies about me in statements to the commission.
I contacted every NGO I could find, and every attorney on the State Bar website, however there were only 9, and the one who said he could help charges so much money I definitely can’t afford it.
I’m genuinely scared for my life, but I do have hard evidence which exposes these people lied to the government agency. I am afraid of the local police however, as an officer told me his is the only black officer on the force, and if I heard what they are saying about me (I’m transgender) I would leave town. I don’t think they’ll help me against a popular business owner who lied about me. Instead I fear they will use the opportunity to join in on persecuting me (yes I meant to say persecuting).
I talked to the state auditor Rob Sand, and he said to contact you. He believes in you and I sincerely hope you will please look at my evidence and help. This is an urgent matter and is extremely stressful to me. It is character assassination.
10-31-22: Emailed Ames City Atty Mark Lambert to request a copy of the plea agreement between Gory Allen and the state. City Atty. Advised me that the plea agreement likely described within the “State’s Recommendation” document instead of being a standalone document. He said the County Atty’s office handled my case, and that I should request it from them.
Called County Admin and was transferred to Sandra King – Director of External Operations & County Services. She emailed me a copy of a records request form, writing “Here is the link to the public records form.
Filed request at 1:38 pm.
11-2-22: set up a booth at DMACC to hand out “Justice Reforms” handout.
11-3-22: Ordered copies of dockets from Ames District Court for the “face slammed against car” case and “license didn’t match up” case. Performed public records request from police station for ¾ cases. See video footage.
Requested police records from Nevada PD re “Interfering with Official Acts” charge from my 21st birthday. After introducing and explaining why I was requesting it, Officer Ray Reynolds asked if I wanted to sit and talk for a moment so he could get the full story. We went into his office. He said he is friends with my cousin, Andrew Henderson, who is also on the force. After we talked for awhile, he told me that the Nevada PD has done “a lot” the past few years to educate the force and be more understanding toward transgender people. Ray asked if I ever considered talking in front of police agencies – that when people have a face to go with this sort of thing, and can have a one-on-one conversation – it makes a big difference. I told him I don’t know how I’d even go about arranging something like that. He said he was going to send out an email making this suggestion and telling him about our conversation today, and hopefully he will email me in the future with some good news.
Went to the District Courthouse in Nevada, IA. Asked Clerk of Court, Dorian Myhre, how I could request an injunction. She provided a form that is not available on their website. Arguably one of the most important forms – the general inquiry one where you basically request a hearing to show a judge your unique case and request relief. Really surprised they don’t have this on the website, but also not surprised because our justice system is corrupt currently.
Was told to contact Scott Hand to request a copy of District 2’s “Local Rules of Procedure”. Left a message with him soon after.
11-8-22: handed out this article in several places throughout downtown Ames. Wrote the following to The Advocate:
In 2006 I was arrested for going into the women’s restroom in Ames, Iowa. The City of Ames gave me an apology letter and a $1500 check, and shortly thereafter the Advocate ran a small article on the story which included my photo.
I found out two weeks ago that my attorney changed my plea from “not guilty” to “guilty”: I always thought I won that case, but it looks like I was entered into a plea bargain without my knowledge and consent, and the fact that I was done wrong was never entered into the state record.
I would like my story told, if you would care to help. Further, I would like a copy of that article from 2006. I was probably under the name “Alex”, “Alexandra”, or maybe “Distance”.
Thank you for your assistance in this matter.“
Wrote the following article: Transgender Iowan, arrested for going in the women’s restroom in 2006, still seeks justice.
1/6/2023: Linda Brundies from the Office of Ombudsman contacted me, telling me she was assigned to my case, and asked what areas of discrimination I filed my complaint under. She also asked which protected class I was under. She requested a copy of the original complaint. I responded immediately.
1/30/2023: pretty much this entire month involved finishing this article: https://wildwillpower.org/cases-in-progress/iowa-cases/transgender-woman-claims-a-501c3-reliable-street-retaliated-against-her-for-filing-a-civil-rights-complaint-against-them
As an Iowa Citizen who was recently harmed by discrimination, slander, and fraud, I have found “finding legal representation” much more difficult than it ought be. Because I have found this to be true with past I have found this in past cases as well, I am broadcasting my “quest for justice” publicly – to show why we need to make our justice system more efficient.
After contacting these several legal aid organizations throughout the state, I was told either:
Below is a list of lawyers I’ve contacted, including a summary of their responses. Thus far the most affordable attorney charges $275/hr which is way beyond my means.
Vos law firm – told me to wait to hear back from the Civil Rights Commission, then contact them.
Sept 9 they called me back and denied aid due to heavy caseload.
Contacted on 10-25-2022 before noon:
Fraud or threats attorneys:
Emailed the following fraud attorneys this message:
“Dear [NAME OF ATTORNEY]:
My name is Sondra Wilson and I am an Honors student at DMACC currently registered with ISU’s pre-law program for next semester. I’m giving you that heads up because I do have some legal knowledge with regard to the case I’m contacting you about.
I found your name on www.IowaFindALawyer.com and am contacting you to request help regarding a case of fraud case.
Although the fraud was against the state, it also directly targeted and adversely affects me until it gets resolved. A continuing injury.
There is also very likely slander involved, but without subpoenaing key witnesses, I do not know from whom it originated.
I attached a rough draft article which explains the situation, and am hoping you are open to discussing this further. I hope that you will consider representing me because it is a strong case – I do really want justice for it, but none of the free legal aid organizations throughout Iowa seem to take fraud cases – they just do simple “non-fee-generating” cases is what nearly every one of them has told me.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Christine Brandstad www.Branstadlaw.com [email protected]
Jasper Verhofste [email protected] https://www.carneyappleby.com/
Steven Porto [email protected] http://www.linkedin.com/in/steven-porto-18399086
George B. Jones [email protected] http://www.topiowalawyer.com
Kelsey Knight [email protected] http://www.carrlawiowa.com
Joe Casey [email protected] https://www.joecaseylaw.com
Beau Bergmann [email protected] Bergmann Law Firm, P.L.L.C.
11/28/2022: Contacted Nyemaster Law Firm re: Class Action lawsuit: https://nyemaster.com/feedback-thanks/
2/5/2023: Wrote the following to Payer, Hunziker, Rhodes & Peters LLP: https://www.payerlaw.com/thank-you/
Volunteered for nonprofit “Reliable Street” in Ames for approximately six months – mainly managing a garden and prairie restoration project.
After another volunteer submitted slanderous statements about me to the business, I was banned from the property. I believe that the business discriminated against me because I’m transgender: a non-transgender woman complained about me, and the business presumed I was guilty. I have evidence the allegations against me were false.
After I filed with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the CEO of Reliable Street, Lyndsay Nissen, and her friend, Charlie Esker (who is also close friends with the original complainant), wrote approximately ten extremely damaging lies/accusations about me to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. Lies included accusations I was even “stalking” and “harassing” the employee who complained against me, “saying racist comments”, and other extremely damaging, very false accusations which reflect negatively on me especially because I’m a transgender woman in this political climate.
The Iowa Civil Rights Commission urged me to find an attorney.
2-23-23: After finding zero Civil Rights attorneys in my area on www.IowaFindALawyer.com, I contacted the following civil rights attorneys from Justia.
Wrote the following to Ben Lynch Law:
I had a very negative experience here in Ames, Iowa wherein I ended up filing a civil rights complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission against three businesses: “Reliable Street, Inc”, “Love Club, LLC”, and Lockwood Cafe, because they each had a part in how I was mistreated.
Of the three I would say Lockwood has the least part in it – an employee lodged a complaint with the owner of Lockwood against me and to this day I do not know why. I was told I was “violating her space”, but it really doesn’t make sense because basically we worked on the garden together, and all of her messages to me – even just before the complaint – made it seem like she regarded me highly and as a friend.
At the time I was volunteering for Reliable Street (a nonprofit). The CEO is Lyndsay Nissen, who also owns Love Club – so she is seen as the owner of the property. Upon receiving the complaint about me – without hearing my perspective – she banned me from the property. This is after I spent approximately six months managing and performing extensive hands-on labor on their large garden, as well as other volunteer activities.
Although Nissen said I was volunteering for Reliable Street, she made purchases related to my volunteer work using Love Club’s account. I noted this in my Civil Rights complaint because according to the Fair Labor Standards Act – I could not legally perform volunteer work for a for-profit business. I didn’t realize she was doing this until after I filed the complaint.
The biggest injury to me, however, is to my reputation. What Nissen did next is completely unacceptable. In retaliation for me filing the complaint against them because I believe I was discriminated against, she and her friend, Charlie Esker, wrote approximately ten extremely damaging lies to the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, including accusing me of “stalking and harassing” and employee, saying racist comments, asking customers for money, etc etc etc. I have hard evidence some of what they wrote were lies, however the Civil Rights Commission dropped the case. I believed it was really negligent for them to drop it despite the evidence I presented, however when I filed against the Civil Rights Commission with the Ombudsman, they pointed out that the Commission isn’t required to take cases even when discrimination is apparent. They can choose which cases to take or not take.
Anyway, because I’ve been unable to find legal representation thus far, I wrote a detailed account of what happened. I want my reputation restored – to prove that what was said and written about me is false. I believe that punitive damages should apply (I’m a current law student so I’m pretty familiar with a lot of terminology), and I am seeking damages. Here is a link to what I have written, although I have not broadcast it in a lot of places because the CEO’s father recently passes away, so I was going to wait till mid-March, and hopefully find an attorney to help.
Trans Woman Claims Nonprofit “Reliable Street” Retaliated Against Her for Filing a Civil Rights Complaint:
Wrote the following to Robert Peterson:
My name is Sondra Wilson, and I am currently a student at DMACC in Boone/Ames.
I had a very negative experience here in Ames wherein I ended up filing a civil rights complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission against three businesses: “Reliable Street, Inc”, “Love Club, LLC”, and Lockwood Cafe, because they each had a part in how I was discriminated against and defrauded.
Of the three I would say Lockwood has the least part in it – an employee lodged a complaint with the owner of Lockwood against me and to this day I do not know why. I was told I was “violating her space”, but it really doesn’t make sense because basically we worked on the garden together, and all of her messages to me – even just before the complaint – made it seem like she regarded me highly and as a friend. Messages like, “Love you” and “appreciate you so much”, and a request to send her footage of me performing. I believe she maybe felt uncomfortable around me or something, but the way she conveyed whatever she was feeling led to the owner of the property kicking me off. I believe text messages and witness testimonies show pretty clearly that her complaint was mishandled in a discriminatory manner. From my perspective, a non-transgender woman lodged a complaint against a transgender woman “violating her space” (a typical attack against transgender women violating women’s spaces), and without asking me anything about it the owner prejudiced me and kicked me off the property. This is after I spent six months managing and performing extensive hands-on labor improving their property – put in charge of managing the community garden and native prairie restoration on the property.
Long story short, I filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission against the businesses involved. In response the owner/CEO, Lyndsay Nissen, and her friend, Charlie Esker, wrote approximately ten extremely damaging lies about me to the Commission, including that I was “stalking” and “harassing” the employee, “saying racist comments”, “asked customers for money”, and “said I was going to pay for prairie seeds but never did” (I have the receipt for when I paid for the seeds so that one is very easy to prove).
There are more details for the case, however it may be simpler to just drop you this link to an article I wrote about the situation:
Trans Woman Claims Nonprofit “Reliable Street” Retaliated Against Her for Filing a Civil Rights Complaint:
I hope you have a moment to read through that, and, if able, consider representing me in court. I have a fair amount of knowledge in the law because I am a law student, but I don’t have enough knowledge to take this case by myself, and frankly confronting these people who hurt me would be really emotionally difficult to do in a courtroom setting.
Thank you, Robert.
After the Iowa Civil Rights Commission closed my case, they continually urged me to “find an attorney”. They recommended finding one on the Iowa State Bar Website, which directs people to www.IowaFindALawyer.com.
Besides contacting all 9 defamation attorneys and all 7 fraud attorneys listed on the site, I also contacted the following organizations which are recommended for “Low Income Legal Assistance“. Responses for each are shown:
Polk County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project – 1-800-532-1275. Lines open 9-11 am or 1-3. Called me back; could not help because they “don’t take fee-generating cases”.
Story County Legal Aid – couldn’t help because they “don’t take fee-generating cases”.
Contacted the following on 9-21-2022:
Emailed Drake University Legal Clinic – Only handles the following types of cases: Divorces, Child Custody, Adult Guardianships, Small Claims, Unemployment, Landlord Tenant – POLK COUNTY CASES ONLY. Recommended I contact the Lawyer Referral Service at 515-243-3179.
Through the Neal & Bea Smith Legal Clinic, students have the chance to gain practical experience by working with actual clients. The clinic also serves the community by helping those who might not otherwise have access t
3-9-2023: After meeting with Representative Ross Wilburn this morning, I contacted the University of Iowa Law Clinic as he suggested, and left a message Professor John Allen about what I’ve been going through. Secretary informed me this was likely something they can’t help with, and they’ll likely have to refer me out. Also left message with Christina Bohannen, as suggested by Representative Wilburn.
3-14-2023: Jamie Newkirk (O’brian and Marquard) emailed me back. Can’t take case due to heavy caseload. Recommended I contact John Doak in Moline, IL at 309-797-3000 (phone was disconnected). Also gave me a link to NELA (National Employment Lawyers Association) https://www.nela.org/
3-15-2023: Shared article on Facebook page “Ames People”, and sent it to WHO13 news agency and the Des Moines Register, requesting coverage.
3-16-2023: Contacted Community Law Office to request a consultation. Wrote the following on their intake form: “1. First off, I need to explain this odd dynamic – and why there are two businesses involved – a for profit (Love Club LLC) and a nonprofit (Reliable Street Inc). I should have been hired by the LLC according to the Fair Labor Standards Act. However, I was kept under the impression I was volunteering for a non–profit that is also run by Lyndsay Nissen. Approximately 6 months into volunteering approximately 20 hours per week, I requested her to fill out a form so we could make a tax exempt purchase through the nonprofit. She said she didn’t think the nonprofit covered the type of work I was doing so she would order the product “through the LLC” (which I didn’t know existed!) I learned that Love Club LLC owned the property I was working on after I was kicked off the property shortly thereafter. So although I wasn’t hired, legally for-profit businesses cannot have volunteers improving their property according to the Fair Labor Standards Act.
2. After working their property approximately six months, Nissen banned me from the property unexpectedly. She informed me there were “multiple complaints” against me “violating peoples’ personal spaces”. I did not know what she meant, so I asked. No details were given. I did not know why complained against me nor why. After asking several acquaintances and people I worked alongside at the space if I made them feel uncomfortable, all said absolutely not. Then I learned that a female employee of the neighboring business complained against me. Her complaint does not make sense: her last text messages to me included “love you”, “I appreciate you so much”, and a request to send her video footage of me performing. I believe I was discriminated against because I am a transgender woman, and when a non-trans woman complained against me they treated me with a presumption of guilt. She was given preferential treatment – there was no investigation nor any questioning to me.
3. After I filed a complaint against them with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, the CEO and her friend wrote approximately ten extremely damaging (defamatory) statements about me to the Commission, including accusing me of “stalking” and “harassing” the employee. I have hard evidence that 5 of the statements they submitted were lies made to convince the Commission to drop the case. I believe I was retaliated against, and my reputation is ruined because now people see me as someone that would do these things. It severely damages my employability and reputation.“
3/23/23: Community Law Office informed me they have a conflict of interest and cannot represent me. They suggested contacting GBSW Law Firm at 515-235-0551.
Contacted GBSW Law Firm.
4/15/2023: 2:35 pm: sent the following to Roxanne Conlin & Assoc.:
I was told to contact you through Kurtis Bower and Tranquillity Jo regarding mistreatment I’ve experienced here in Iowa over the years in relation to me being a trans woman.
After being arrested in 2006 for “trespassing” into the women’s restroom in Ames, I was given an apology letter from the State of Iowa and City Officials were required to attend a class to learn about trans people.
Three years later, I was falsely accused of assaulting a woman. Her own witnessed told the truth that I didn’t touch her, but the judge sided with her and her friend that lied, even though their accounts differed greatly from each other and went against what every other witness said.
After the trial, and officer warned me to leave the state for my safety, because some local officials were still upset with me because of the bathroom incident. He said that they got this assault charge could be used to link me to a larger terrorist organization. He told me that “if I heard what he was hearing” – then I would leave the state for my safety.
I was homeless for years, then returned in 2018. Someone commit serious libel against me, and local authorities are choosing not to hold them accountable even though they violated Iowa Code 714.8(4).
I recently announced that I’m running for Governor, and am concerned that because I have come forward with much of the evidence with these cases, that my safety could be at risk.
I have much hard evidence and enough knowledge of the law that I know the courts ought side with me.
Please help if able. I don’t want to be alone in this.
Thank you for your time,
Exec. Dir. of Wild Willpower PAC”