Government

Des Moines lawyer challenges Reynolds' appointment of judge

Sixth Judicial District associate judge Nicholas Scott (right) administers the oath to Jason Besler during Besler’s investiture as the newest district judge at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, July 27, 2018. Besler, 44, replaces the vacancy left by Judge Marsha Bergan, who retired this past September. Besler was an assistant Linn County attorney for 18 years. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Sixth Judicial District associate judge Nicholas Scott (right) administers the oath to Jason Besler during Besler’s investiture as the newest district judge at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, July 27, 2018. Besler, 44, replaces the vacancy left by Judge Marsha Bergan, who retired this past September. Besler was an assistant Linn County attorney for 18 years. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — A Des Moines lawyer is asking the court’s permission to challenge the appointment of 6th Judicial District Judge Jason Besler because Gov. Kim Reynolds didn’t meet the 30-day deadline required for the appointment.

Gary Dickey, who served as chief of staff for former Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack, claims in an application to file a petition that “Mr. Besler is unlawfully holding the public office of district judge.”

Last month, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady said in a memo to Iowa judges that he wouldn’t “confirm or ratify” Besler’s appointment because the governor’s office failed to meet the deadline for the appointment. Because of that, he said, he had no authority under the state Constitution to confirm the judge.

Dickey asked Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness to file a petition challenging Besler’s judgeship.

But Lyness in an Oct. 19 letter to Dickey said, after reviewing the state Constitution and relevant laws, she wouldn’t file such a petition.

Dickey, in the application filed in Johnson County District Court, said he also contacted an official with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, who also declined to pursue any civil action.

The questions on the appointment surfaced when Besler told The Gazette he wasn’t contacted by Reynolds about his appointment until June 25, four days past the deadline.

The 6th Judicial District Nominating Commission selected him and another lawyer on May 21. The governor then had 30 days to appoint, according to Iowa law.

Reynolds, in a June 25 news release, said she made the appointment June 21. But Besler, 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick Grady and the Iowa Supreme Court were not told until June 25.

Reynolds spokeswoman Brenna Smith told The Gazette in a June 25 email that the governor planned to contact Besler when she appointed him June 21, but “attention to flooding and other matters” delayed the call.

Bleeding Heartland, a political website, acquired June 25 emails from Cady’s attorney, Molly Kottmeyer, to Reynolds’ chief of staff, Ryan Koopsman. Kottmeyer said she understood the appointment wasn’t made in writing but, “We trust the appointment was made within 30 days as required by the Constitution, and the date the appointee was notified would have no legal significance.”

In a July 6 email, Kottmeyer wrote to Koopsman that although Reynolds didn’t notify Belser or judicial officials within 30 days, Cady accepts the “decision by Gov. Reynolds that this appointment was made on June 21.”

Dickey noted in his application that Besler’s judicial commission certificate is dated June 21, but both Reynolds and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate acknowledged it was signed June 25.

The governor only informing her chief of staff of her decision and not making it in writing is “insufficient” for an official act of filling a district court vacancy, Dickey argues in the application.

Dickey also asks the court to move the matter to Polk County to avoid the “appearance of impropriety” from having a colleague of Besler’s oversee the decision in the 6th Judicial District.

Besler, 44, is one of 13 judges in the 6th Judicial District, which includes Linn, Johnson, Jones, Benton, Iowa and Tama counties.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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