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Appealing cases: Judge Odell G. McGhee II '74

  Mary Boone  

Odell G. McGhee II ’74 became only the fifth African-American judge at the district or associate-district level in Iowa when he took his oath on April 12.

His is a story of perseverance and determination. Each time a judgeship opened up in Polk County, Iowa, McGhee submitted his name. Each time he was turned down. He went through the process at least 30 times over the past 10 years before being appointed. McGhee studied speech, theater, and political science at Cornell and received his juris doctorate from Drake University in 1977. After college, he worked as director and coordinator of a statewide legal services program for senior citizens. He also worked as an administrative hearing officer with the stateof Iowa before spending 18 years working in the District Attorneys’ Office.

McGhee recently served as president of the Iowa National Bar Association and as chairman of the Des Moines Water Works Commission. He’s active in community theater and has taught undergraduate law courses at several colleges around Des Moines.

Judge McGhee and his wife, Jacqueline Easley, have two children, Carey Lucia and Ty Ellington.

The Case: Janis Sue Muller v. Edna Todd
Janis Sue Muller paid $5,000 to join Seasons of Sharing. The group’s mission statement says it “allows women to pool their resources in an effort to enrich lives through the process of giving.” This program, however, turned out to be an illegal pyramid or gifting scheme in which participants work their way to a pay off position by recruiting others to follow them into the scheme.

When Muller entered the program, the defendant, Edna Todd, was in the pay out position. Muller “gifted” Todd with $5,000 at about the same time law enforcement authorities put out news releases saying the scheme was illegal. The pyramid collapsed and Muller never recovered any money. She filed suit to recover the $5,000 she paid Todd.

Judge McGhee found Muller and Todd had no direct contact. Evidence also showed that Todd did not recruit or encourage Muller to join the pyramid, although she did encourage and recruit other individuals to join the pyramid.

The judge determined both Muller and Todd had the same interest in joining the scheme: Both were looking for an easy way to make money. The only difference between the plaintiff and defendant is that the pyramid collapsed before the plaintiff had the opportunity to climb to the pay out spot.

Judge McGhee wrote in his opinion: “The Court does not feel that the activities involved can be considered seriously immoral and does not believe it is fair to permit the defendants to keep the benefits of their involvement in the pyramid scheme when the plaintiffs simply had the ill fortune of joining a scheme at an untimely period.” McGhee ruled against the defendant, Todd, and ordered her to pay the plaintiff, Muller, $4,000 plus interest.

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