Government

Gov. Reynolds didn't meet deadline to appoint judge, Des Moines lawyer argues

Iowa Solicitor General argues there's no dispute to take further action

Sixth Judicial District Court Judge Jason Besler listens as Jeffrey Thompson, Iowa Solicitor General, addresses Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Robert Hanson in Johnson County District Court on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. Gary Dickey (right) said he wants to file a civil petition challenging’s appointment because Gov. Kim Reynolds missed the deadline, which makes it unlawful for Besler to be on the bench. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Sixth Judicial District Court Judge Jason Besler listens as Jeffrey Thompson, Iowa Solicitor General, addresses Fifth Judicial District Court Judge Robert Hanson in Johnson County District Court on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. Gary Dickey (right) said he wants to file a civil petition challenging’s appointment because Gov. Kim Reynolds missed the deadline, which makes it unlawful for Besler to be on the bench. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — A Des Moines lawyer argued Monday that Gov. Kim Reynolds didn’t meet the 30-day deadline to appoint 6th Judicial District Judge Jason Besler last year, and he should be allowed to challenge it.

During a hearing in Johnson County District Court, Gary Dickey, who served as chief of staff for former Gov. Tom Vilsack, said he wants to file a civil petition challenging Besler’s appointment because Reynolds missed the deadline, which makes it unlawful for Besler to be on the bench.

Dickey said as a “citizen of Iowa” he has the right to file the petition, acting as prosecutor, because Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller declined to challenge the appointment.

Iowa Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson, Besler’s lawyer, argued it’s not as simple as Dickey claims. According to law, Dickey has to have a specific interest and there has to be a “live” or real dispute, Thompson said.

Thompson said Dickey is a lawyer from Des Moines but only has a case or two in the 6th Judicial District. Dickey also has to show a substantial interest or a “real stake” to bring a petition forward and there isn’t one, Thompson said.

Thompson also said Besler’s appointment isn’t in dispute. When the issue was raised, that Reynolds didn’t tell Besler about his appointment until four days after the deadline, the attorney for Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady communicated with Reynold’s office and accepted the explanation that she made her decision by the deadline but was delayed in telling Besler and the court.

Justice Cady said he deferred to Reynolds and accepted her appointment, Thompson said. Cady also sent Besler a formal letter congratulating him on the appointment.

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Dickey then argued that Cady said, in a memo sent to Iowa judges, that he would not “confirm or ratify” the appointment. Cady said he didn’t have the authority since Reynold’s office confirmed she made the appointment within the 30-day time frame, and he would defer to the appropriate court process, Dickey said.

Cady, in the memo, said “This determination by the governor deserves respect unless resolved differently through the legal process established to resolve disputes.”

Thompson also asked the court to order Dickey to pay a $10,000 bond — costs of this court action — if the court decides he can proceed and file the petition.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Emily Willits, Besler’s other lawyer, said a bond was needed because she was concerned this would open the door for others to file petitions if a county attorney and the attorney general decline to take up cases.

Dickey said that amount was excessive and suggested $500 would be appropriate.

Fifth Judicial District Judge Robert Hanson, who will make the determination, said he would take the issue under advisement and make a written ruling as soon as possible.

Questions about 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 Besler and Ellen Ramsey-Kacena 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.

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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.

Besler took the bench last July, after working 18 years as an assistant Linn County attorney. He is not allowed to handle criminal cases for a year in Linn because of his previous position but has no restrictions on criminal or civil cases in the other counties of the 6th Judicial District - Johnson, Benton, Iowa, Tama and Jones.

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

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