Reynolds’ missed judge appointment deadline raises question
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Some lawyers are questioning Gov. Kim Reynolds appointment of a district court judge, saying a missed deadline could allow people appearing before the judge to question his authority.
Reynolds filed the paperwork to appoint Judge Jason Besler after a 30-day constitutional deadline had passed. Although Chief Justice Mark Cady later accepted the appointment, lawyer Gary Dickey said he is preparing documents asking Cady to issue an order formally ratifying the appointment since Reynolds missed the deadline, effectively nullifying her appointment authority.
Otherwise, Dickey said the district court judge’s rulings could be open to legal challenges.
“Until this issue is resolved with some finality, it does call into question the jurisdiction of the judge and his rulings,” said Dickey, who served as former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack’s chief attorney. “I think for the benefit of Iowans, they need to know whether or not their judge was appointed according to the constitution and has the authority to issue rulings.”
The issue arose after Bleeding Heartland, a blog that covers Iowa politics, obtained documents that indicated Reynolds had missed the June 21 deadline to fill a vacancy in eastern Iowa’s 6th Judicial District. A judicial nominating commission on May 22 sent Reynolds two options to fill the position — Cedar Rapids lawyer Ellen Ramsey-Kacena and Besler, an assistant Linn County prosecutor — and the governor had 30 days to make a choice.
A state law specifies that appointments must be made in writing to the secretary of state.
Reynolds’ spokeswoman, Brenna Smith, said Reynolds verbally informed her chief of staff, Ryan Koopmans, of her choice on June 21, but because she was traveling and busy, no call was made to Besler that day.
“I didn’t get the phone call made,” Reynolds told reporters on Tuesday.
In discussions between Koopmans and Cady’s office, Koopmans argued that appointments could be made in other ways than in writing. Cady’s office agreed to accept the appointment.
Iowa Judicial Branch spokesman Steve Davis said Cady had nothing to add other than to provide the communications between his office and the governor’s.
Davis said Besler responded to a request for comment by saying it was “not my place to comment.”
Guy Cook, an attorney who served on a state judicial nominating commission and is past president of the Iowa State Bar Association, agreed that Besler’s appointment could create problems if someone who appears before him decides to challenge his authority, claiming he was not legally seated as a judge.
“It’s important to be careful and precise in exercising constitutional authority and meeting legal deadlines. There can be consequences,” Cook said.
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