Legal Newsline

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

A look back at Braley: Senate-hopeful mixed in defense work during trial lawyer career

By Kristin Guess | Oct 28, 2014

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WATERLOO, Iowa (Legal Newsline) – During his career as a trial lawyer, U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley worked as both a personal injury attorney and, occasionally, a defense attorney for a Budweiser distributor, among others.

Legal Newsline is exploring the career of Braley, the former president of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association who is also running for U.S. Senate this year, by examining court documents in Black Hawk County.

Braley worked at Dutton, Braun, Staack & Hellman before his election to the House of Representatives in 2006.

Pruess vs. Fahr Beverage

In 1994, Braley represented Fahr Beverage after a former employee filed a lawsuit in August against the company for wrongful termination.

Russell L. Pruess, represented by Robert Dieter, was employed full-time with Fahr Beverage from 1985 to 1994.

He filed a complaint against Fahr Beverage, which is located in Waterloo and supplies Anheuser-Busch products in Northeast Iowa. Pruess was fired on Feb. 18, 1994, by Robert Fahr, president of Fahr Beverage, for allegedly drinking on the job during business hours.

Pruess filed a petition alleging the termination was a breach of an employment contract. He claimed wrongful termination and slander against Fahr Beverage. The matter proceeded to trial on Nov. 7, 1995, and a verdict in excess of $300,000 was returned.

Braley and Fahr Beverage filed a post-trial motion for a new trial.

Pruess alleged he was fired because he had filed for Workers’ Compensation benefits after he suffered from a work-related back injury in November 1992. Pruess subsequently underwent back surgery.

In the lawsuit, Pruess claimed he suffered injuries and damages, loss of past and future wages, loss of seniority and fringe benefits, and emotional and mental distress.

In April 1993, Pruess was released to go back to work, and continued his job at Fahr Beverage. He also continued to receive Workers’ Compensation benefits because of a “permanent partial disability” until January 1994.

Braley, on behalf of Fahr Beverage, claimed Pruess was an at-will employee and his injuries were not the reason he was let go.

Court records allege that on Feb. 18, 1994, Jane Fahr, vice president of Fahr Beverage, asked Ron Cornwell, an employee, to put the display case of Izen Klar beer in inventory. Cornwell stated that he could not because there was a beer missing and that Pruess had consumed the beer. Several investigations were conducted into the employees that were present on this day.

After the jury trial, Fahr Beverage wanted a new trial. In March 1996, the court granted a new trial with Judge Thomas Bower.

In January 1998, Pruess settled his claims.

Davis vs. Fahr Beverage Inc.

Braley also represented Fahr Beverage Inc. in a lawsuit filed by Dennis Davis that relates to the Pruess case.

Davis, represented by Dieter and Mark Fransdall, filed a lawsuit against Fahr Beverage in June 1996. Davis was a general sales manager for the company from June 1993 to April 1995. Court records state that Davis gave testimony in the case regarding Pruess, and his position at Fahr Beverage was subsequently terminated by President Bob Fahr.

“(The) Testimony was damaging to his position, which Fahr took in litigation,” according to court documents.

Davis also claimed the company forced Davis to sign a new employee acknowledgement contract, eliminating just cause for termination.

Davis made a third claim, stating he was denied wages and compensation after he was terminated, including a bonus he was awarded for performance in 1995.

Braley asked the court to dismiss all claims, stating that Davis voluntarily quit his job.

“The position was eliminated as part of a legal business decision to restructure the internal operations of the corporation,” according to court documents.

Davis dismissed his claims in April 1997.

Wurtzel vs. Davis Jr.

In 2004, Braley represented John Davis Jr. after Gene Wurtzel filed a lawsuit against Davis regarding expenses on a drag racing car.

Wurtzel - represented by Paul Demro of Correll, Sheerer, Benson, Engels, Galles and Demro - claimed that in 1999, he and Davis agreed to drag race together. Wurtzel claimed that he was the principal financier and that Davis was the driver of the race car. 

Wurtzel alleged that he financed a new race car by mortgaging his home and that Davis agreed to repay his mortgage. Wurtzel stated that after Davis failed to pay, he was attacked by several members of Davis’ family. Wurtzel stated the damages sustained were $30,000 to $40,000, and he wished one would buy the other out.

Davis stated that he complied with paying the loan and also financed significant portions of the car. On behalf of Davis, Braley made a counter-claim of $50,000 to cover potential monetary damages from the interference of racing season.

In August 2004, Judge Todd Geer assigned Davis to deposit $12,500 in a trust account. He also ordered that the joint account held by Wurtzel and Davis was to be frozen and that Davis could continue racing his car. He also stated all winnings should be deposited into the partnership account and that the car be maintained by Davis. 

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