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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — In a rare move, the House Judiciary Committee voted to issue subpoenas as part of an investigation its chairman is launching of a state court judge accused of trying to rig a judicial nomination to get his preferred candidate appointed.
Chairman Steven Holt, R-Denison, expects the subpoenas to be issued early next week as part of the investigation into conduct that led Gov. Kim Reynolds to reject two nominees for an open judgeship. The committee is seeking documents and testimony from people involved the judicial nominating process.
His target is Judge Kurt Stoebe, who chaired the Judicial Nominating Commission for several counties in north-central Iowa.
Some commission members accused Stoebe of making inappropriate and unprofessional comments about certain applicants, of falsely claiming that one applicant had withdrawn from consideration, and of unfairly favoring one applicant over others during discussions and interviews.
His actions tainted the process, Reynolds said, so she rejected the nominees and ordered the commission to start over for only the second time in history. The commission recommended the same two finalists — Humboldt County Attorney Jonathan Beaty and District Associate Judge Derek Johnson. In December, Reynolds appointed Johnson.
It appears this would be the first time in decades that a legislative committee has issued subpoenas to exercise its oversight authority to investigate the judiciary.
There’s a reason for that, Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, told the committee. Issuing subpoenas implies that committee members believe they have a legal right to the material the subpoenas compel.
She doubted lawmakers have the authority to break the confidentiality of the Judicial Nominating Commission, which, Wolfe noted, is required by laws the Legislature approved.
Issuing subpoenas should not be taken lightly, Wolfe said. The penalties available for anyone who refuses to comply with a subpoena are a contempt citation, a fine and jail.
The Judiciary Committee voted 12-8 along party lines to seek the subpoenas, with Democrats following Wolfe’s advice on not seeking documents protected by law.
Holt believes the subpoenas are needed because although Stoebe agreed to step down as chairman of future nominating commissions, it isn’t clear if any further disciplinary action was taken.
The judicial branch said the Iowa Supreme Court can't discipline a judge without first receiving a public report from the Iowa Judicial Qualifications Commission after an investigation. That process is confidential, a spokesman said.
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