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Jury sides with Waterloo attorney in malpractice trial

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WATERLOO – A Black Hawk County jury sided with a Waterloo attorney in a legal malpractice suit stemming from a landmark HIV transmission case.

Nick Rhoades took attorney James Metcalf to court, claiming Metcalf gave him bad advice when he pleaded guilty to the charge in 2009 and was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison. Rhoades, who had served about 400 days in confinement, was seeking $10,000 to $50,000 in damages.

Testimony in the civil trial began Tuesday, and on Friday a six-man, two-woman jury ruled Metcalf wasn’t at fault after a few hours of deliberation.

Rhoades had been accused of having sexual contact with a Cedar Falls man in 2008 without disclosing he was HIV positive. In the years after the 2009 guilty plea, Rhoades appealed his plea using other attorneys. The Iowa Supreme Court set aside his plea in a 2014 decision that led to prosecutors dropping the charge. Attorney Marc Harding of Des Moines represented Rhoades in the civil case and alleged Metcalf shouldn’t have allowed Rhoades to plea. He said Metcalf failed to investigate the case and should have stopped the plea hearing when Rhoades’ doctor testified there was less than a one-in-100,000 chance of transmitting the virus because Rhoades had been taking medication and used a condom.

Attorney Michael Lanigan represented Metcalf and argued the one-in-100,000 chance meant transmission was possible under the state of the law in 2009, and that was all the state needed to obtain a guilty verdict.

Lawmakers were in the process of revamping Iowa HIV transmission statute in 2014, and the court system was looking for a way to get rid of a bad law and used Rhoades’ appeal to do it, Lanigan said.

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