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Linn, Johnson prosecutors followed similar career paths leading to election run
Both Democrats are unopposed in Nov. 8 election
The two prosecutors running for the chief law enforcement positions in Linn and Johnson counties have followed similar career paths by working their way up to become first assistants in their respective counties.
Each has many years of experience — one working over 21 years in Linn County and the other 16 years in Johnson County. Both also were tasked with taking on the toughest and challenging cases — murders, armed robberies, child abuse and sexual assault.
Nick Maybanks, 46, who is running for Linn County Attorney, successfully prosecuted a 38 year-old cold case of 18-year-old Michelle Martinko who was brutally attacked by Jerry Burns, 70, of Manchester, Dec. 19, 1979. She was fatally stabbed in her parents’ Buick after a late night shopping trip at Westdale Mall in Cedar Rapids. Burns was convicted in 2020 and is serving a life sentence.
Rachel Zimmermann Smith, 50, running for Johnson County Attorney, handled two back-to-back sexual assault trials in 2021.
Carlos Hivento, 34, of Cedar Rapids, repeatedly sexually assaulted an incapacitated woman and videotaped the attack. He was sentenced to 34 years in prison.
Jorge Maldonado, 30, was convicted of four counts of first-degree sexual abuse and one count of second-degree sexual abuse of two children. He received a life sentence without parole.
Both candidates, who are Democrats, are running unopposed in the Nov. 8 election.
Maybanks was appointed as the Linn County Attorney in January by the Linn County Board of Supervisors to finish out the term of Jerry Vander Sanden, who retired in December 2021. Vander Sanden served 11 years as top prosecutor and 38 years in the office.
Maybanks, in a previous interview after announcing he would run, said he wanted to continue to make the community stronger and safer because it’s where he grew up and where he and his wife, Genie, are raising their two daughters.
He said he passion was always in criminal law. Once he was hired in 2000 by former county attorney Denver Dillard, who later served as a district judge, he never considered anything else. He quickly realized everything he trained and worked for as a practicing lawyer could be accomplished as a prosecutor.
Besides the murder cases, Maybanks always took on the child and sex abuse cases to help the most vulnerable. But he said every crime and victim is important, and he knew the county attorney’s office is where he could make the most difference.
Maybanks, in previous interviews, acknowledged the elected position is a “political post,” but said he doesn’t think the community views the role in that way and politics have nothing to do with the office’s goals.
“I’m just the guy that goes into court to represent the people and fight for them,” he said. “A prosecutor’s only job is to do justice, and the cause of justice should make people’s lives better.”
Maybanks told The Gazette last week that being in the job for over nine months “only solidifies” his commitment to keep serving.
“We’ve taken a tough stance on violent crime, we’ve engaged the community and our partners to prevent crime and we continue to seek out initiatives and programs to divert offenders when appropriate,” Maybanks noted.
Zimmermann Smith’s career
She realized her passion for criminal law when she landed an internship at the Johnson County Attorney’s Office in 2002. She had the opportunity to go into court and try misdemeanor cases, which no other students were doing.
Two years later, then-Johnson County Attorney Pat White hired her and she tried her first murder case with Janet Lyness, who at the time was first assistant.
Lyness will retire as Johnson County Attorney at the end of her term Dec. 31 after 15 years, having worked in the office for 31 years.
Zimmermann Smith was born and raised in Solon and Iowa City and, like Maybanks, also has a personal interest in continuing to make the county safe because she and her husband, Dan, are part of it and raised their two children in Iowa City.
In a previous interview, she said she risked her reputation with her family to become a prosecutor. Her father and uncle are both retired defense lawyers — her father referred to her as the “black sheep” of the family.
As an assistant prosecutor, she has worked to support survivors of domestic violence and to bring a new system into the county that helps law enforcement determine a domestic abuser’s risk to offend.
Zimmermann Smith also worked with others on reducing the Johnson County Jail population because of crowded conditions. Taxpayers have turned down bond measures to finance construction of a new jail.
This week, she said she hopes to continue to find ways to reduce crime and support vulnerable communities by ensuring the justice system is fair for defendants and victims and their families.
“I’m deeply committed to Johnson County,” Zimmermann Smith said.
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