On Sunday as part of a series featuring 15 “Iowans we expect great things from in the coming year,” the Des Moines Register published a long profile of Alan Ostergren, an attorney with a sordid history in local government who’s currently representing a conspiracy theorist in a dubious lawsuit against the Ankeny school district. Or, as the headline of the article by courts reporter William Morris reads, who’s “now a champion for conservative causes in court.”
The profile is behind a subscription paywall — you can pay $1.06 with tax to bypass it for the month. It describes how Ostergren chose to pursue a career in law after the 1992 cold-case murder of Tammy Zywicki and left the county office he began working at five years later in May 2020. Since then, Morris writes, the lawyer “found his niche” representing clients including Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks in her successful recount victory against Democrat Rita Hart and “parents suing school districts over mask mandates.” Ostergren presents himself as a sorely needed conservative counterbalance to the numerous attorneys representing progressive issues and organizations like the ACLU of Iowa.
A high-profile figure in the Iowa GOP, Ostergren is certainly a person to watch. But no doubt sensitive to the disparaging nicknames it’s given, like “the Red Star, as people like to call it, or the old Locust Street Liar,” when it publishes anything the least bit critical of a right-winger, the Register glossed over a lot of details about him that could provide clarity about the “great things” he’s setting out to achieve.
Ostergren joined the Muscatine County attorney’s office in 1997 as an assistant prosecutor and rose to the top role in 2011. His actions over the following nine years clash with the purported noble premise behind his Kirkwood Institute, an Altoona-based nonprofit billed as “a conservative public interest law firm that advances the liberty of Iowans” which he recently established.
In 2014, apparently without budgetary approval from the county’s board of supervisors, Ostergren spent nearly $30,000 in funds obtained by law enforcement through civil forfeiture to buy himself a new Jeep Grand Cherokee. He defended the decision by claiming it was a work vehicle and would save the county money in reimbursements for official travel because it got better gas mileage than his previous ride.
The following year, Ostergren pursued felony misconduct and fraud charges against former West Liberty City Manager Chris Ward for allegedly overbilling residents by charging them an outdated electric utility rate that had since been changed. The allegation was based on an incorrect reading of the city code and led to a civil rights lawsuit that cost Muscatine County $50,000.
This wasn’t the only mean-spirited prosecution Ostergren pursued. In 2017, he was scolded by then-Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins for targeting a Mexican immigrant who arrived in the States as a child. Before seeking legal status as a DREAMer, she falsified documents as a teenager to acquire a driver’s license and find a job in order to provide for her children.
“At the time the county attorney decided to exercise his discretion to file charges, she had three young children and was pregnant with her fourth child,” Wiggins wrote. “At the time he filed the charges, the county attorney knew there was a good chance [she] could be deported, which would force her children, three American citizens, to leave the country or stay here and fend on their own.”
The court ultimately tossed out the case, ruling that Ostergren lacked the authority to prosecute the woman because the identity theft and forgery charges he brought were the domain of federal immigration law.
Despite all this, senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst recommended him for a position as top federal prosecutor in southern Iowa. President Trump did not heed their advice. Ostergren won re-election as Muscatine County attorney in November 2018 by a slim margin and the following month — almost immediately after the county agreed to settle Ward’s abuse-of-power lawsuit — Ostergren submitted an ill-fated application to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court.
For the Register‘s profile of Ostergren, Morris spoke with incoming state Representative Mike Bousselot of Ankeny, whose campaign in a September special election Ostergren donated $500 to and welcomed among its volunteers the so-called QAnon “Mama Bears” Emily Peterson and Kimberly Reicks. “A conservative cause today is the individual vs. the institution, and fighting for individual rights, and Alan is the conservative champion for those causes, going forward,” Bousselot said.
Morris also interviewed Miller-Meeks, who credited Ostergren and two other lawyers for upholding her six-vote victory over Hart against a team of dozens and, as she’s said previously, Nancy Pelosi’s supposed desire to subvert the will of the people — a claim employed in part to distract from Trump’s false claims that he’d won re-election. (Ostergren himself regularly appears on a WHO Radio show hosted by Simon Conway, who has spread numerous falsehoods involving election fraud and other conspiracy theories.) Before that, he worked for the Trump campaign, assisting in successfully defending Secretary of State Paul Pate against lawsuits seeking to overturn rules intended to make voting by absentee ballot more burdensome.
The “parents suing school districts over mask mandates” mentioned in the article aren’t named. But they include Reicks, who’s represented by Ostergren in a retaliation lawsuit against the Ankeny school district involving her false claims that a since-lifted mask mandate caused one of her daughters to get staph infections. The notoriety Reicks has gained from her ongoing harassment of the district has made her a regular speaker at QAnon conferences throughout the country where audiences are told bizarre lies about the 2020 election result and the coronavirus pandemic. (Ostergren previously told the Register that it’s “just not the case” Reicks is a conspiracy theorist.)
A jury trial has been scheduled for Reicks’s lawsuit on February 27, 2023, according to the Iowa Courts Online case docket.