Justice Column

By: News Release
Mar 15th, 2019

This is the 98th and final edition of Justice For All.

On February 21, 2019, Governor Kim Reynolds appointed me as district court judge for election district 1A which includes Allamakee, Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, and Winneshiek Counties.  My final few days as county attorney and as a lawyer in private practice have been and will be spent ensuring a smooth transition for the people who will be replacing me.

For those of you who are interested in how someone becomes a district court judge, the process was created in 1962 through an amendment to the Iowa Constitution. Any attorney who is licensed to practice law in the State of Iowa may apply to the district nominating commission when a judicial vacancy at the district court level occurs. Applicants must fill out a written application and provide the nominating commission with reasons why the applicant wants to be a judge and a description of how they would enhance the court if appointed. Applicants must also provide far-reaching information about their education, legal career, community activities and criminal and professional disciplinary history, if any. The nominating commission then conducts in person interviews and discusses each applicant’s merits in a closed session. The commission concludes its procedure by sending a slate of two nominees to the governor who conducts his or her own interview process before making the appointment.

Iowa’s system for choosing judges is based on merit with a focus on the professional qualifications of applicants such as experience, legal skills and knowledge, and judicial temperament. Unlike federal judges, Iowa judges are not appointed for life. After a judge is appointed by the Governor he or she may choose to stand for retention whereby the voters have the choice to vote yes or no on whether the judge should remain in their position. Judges who are retained serve for an additional six years and may choose to stand for a retention vote as many times as they want until the age of 72 at which time they must retire or take senior judge status.

The nomination and retention process is geared towards maintaining an independent, fair, and impartial judiciary. It is vital that judges have these qualities because, as a comment in Chapter 51:4.1 of the Iowa Judicial Code of Conduct states, “a judge plays a role different from that of a legislator or executive branch official. Rather than making decisions based upon the expressed views or preferences of the electorate, a judge makes decisions based upon the law and the facts of every case.”

My new position in the judicial branch allows me to stay in Clayton County as my chambers will be located in the Clayton County Courthouse. The current situation reminds me of the lyrics of a famous song by The Beatles, “I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello.” While I’m saying goodbye to all of you as county attorney I’m also saying hello as a district court judge.

In closing, I would like thank everyone who has read these columns since I started writing them in January 2011. I hope this has been worth your time. Serving as Clayton County Attorney for the past 8+ years has been extraordinarily rewarding for me both personally and professionally. As United States Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson once wrote, “the citizen’s safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness.” It has been a genuine honor to hold this position and I have given my finest effort to seek the truth, serve the law, and do so with humility. For the final time as county attorney, this is justice for all.