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Iowa GOP Senate Candidate's Husband Sued House Painter Over Unfinished Work

The threat of potential legal action from Democratic opponent Bruce Braley toward a neighbor has become a major issue in the Iowa Senate campaign.

Posted on September 29, 2014, at 3:34 p.m. ET

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Republicans in Iowa have cried foul over Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley's dispute over his neighbors chickens crossing onto his yard, which he implied he would take legal action to resolve it.

But Braley's challenger, Republican Joni Ernst, has had her own past legal dispute: Her husband sued — and won — against a house-painter over unfinished work on the Ernsts' home.

Gail Ernst, Ernst's husband, eventually had the court garnish the painter's property — including a truck — when he couldn't pay the amount rendered in the judgement.

An Ernst spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, "Unlike Washington politicians who spend money with no regard for what they get, Joni actually believes that when you spend money, you should get something in return."

The threat of a lawsuit in the Braley chicken dispute has become a major element in the campaign this year. Ernst has used the incident to call Braley, who was formerly the president of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association, "a litigious individual" whose behavior in the incident was "not the Iowa way."

In another interview with Chris Moody of Yahoo News Ernst hammered Braley, arguing the way to resolve a dispute is to reach out to the other person.

"He is a trial attorney and the only way he knew how to solve a problem is to threaten to sue a neighbor over a chicken," she said. "The Iowa way, if I had a disagreement, was to reach out to my neighbor and say, 'Hey come on over, let's have a glass of tea and let's talk about this.'"

In another interview with Radio Iowa, Ernst she said Braley's actions were not "Iowa way."

"When Iowans find themselves at odds with each other, the way we should do business is through words, amicably, with a handshake," Ernst said.

In July 2002, Ernst's husband Gail wrote an email to the Better Business Bureau of Iowa saying a man named Steve Akers failed to finish painting their house despite a $3,000 advance. Ernst said he wanted Akers to finish the job.

Via Court Documents

Here's a copy of the original contract sent to "Gale(sic) and Joni Ernst":

Steve Akers Painting

Ernst's husband, Gail, then filed Consumer Protection Complaint form asking Akers pay for the work to be finished.

Court Documents

This included a truck:

Court Records

Unresolved, the dispute headed to court as "Gail R. Ernst v. Steve Akers Painting."

Akers responded to being served by saying he believed he had and agreement to finish the job and couldn't complete it on time "due to health problems."

Court Records

The court ruled in the Ernst's favor saying Akers did indeed breach his contract:

Court Records

Since Akers' assets could not pay the judgement against him to the Ernsts, Joni Ernst's husband had Aker's assets seized "for auction or sale" to "satisfy the remaining judgement."

Court Records

A message left with Akers was not returned.