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.
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. Hes
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 groups
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.