ELECTION 2020

Attorneys vote to retain 6th district judges up for retention this year

State bar association review rates judges to provide information to voters in Nov. 3 election

District Judge Jason Besler addresses Ezekiel Phillips during a Feb. 21 sentencing in Linn County District Court in Ceda
District Judge Jason Besler addresses Ezekiel Phillips during a Feb. 21 sentencing in Linn County District Court in Cedar Rapids. Besler is among the seven 6th Judicial District judges facing a retention vote on the Nov. 3 ballot. Lawyers in the Iowa Bar Association’s evaluation of judges recommended all seven be retained. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Attorneys in the 6th Judicial District have endorsed the retention of all the seven district court judges who face a retention vote in the Nov. 3 election.

The Iowa State Bar Association, in its review of judges released this week, endorsed the retention of District Judges Jason Besler, Mary Chicchelly and Fae Hoover, and Associate District Judges Cynthia Finley, Angie Johnson, Casey Jones and Russell Keast.

Overall, 87 district and eight appellate judges, including Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen, are up for retention on this year’s ballot.

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All are qualified and worthy of retention, the participating attorneys decided.

Any attorney is eligible to evaluate a judge if he or she has appeared before that judge on a frequent basis.

Iowa lawyers have conducted the Judicial Performance Review since 1962, when Iowa adopted its merit system for selecting judges. The evaluation is aimed at providing voters with information about the judges from the attorneys who practice in their courtrooms.

Judges are evaluated on eight questions regarding their professional competence: Knowledge and application of law; perception of factual issues; attentiveness to evidence and arguments; temperament and demeanor; clarity and quality of written opinions; and promptness of rulings and decisions.

Attorneys also rate the judges on questions related to their demeanor, such as whether a judge avoids undue personal observations or criticisms of litigants, judges and lawyers from the bench or in written orders; deals with pro se — or people representing themselves in court — fairly and effectively; and treats people equally regardless of race, gender, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or disability and demonstrates an awareness of implicit bias.

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The judges are rated from 1 to 5 on the questions. It’s rare that attorneys rate a judge as excellent. Most ratings are between 4.1 and 4.8, meaning a judge’s performance is above average.

Overall, attorneys recommend retention of between 90 percent and 100 percent of Iowa’s judges.

6th District

The highest ratings for judges in the 6th Judicial District — Linn, Johnson, Benton, Iowa, Jones and Tama counties — were 4.86 for Johnson and 4.80 for Finley for treating people equally; 4.77 for Jones for temperament; and 4.77 for Hoover for being courteous and patient with litigants, lawyers and court personnel.

All the judges received a retention percentage between 94 percent and 100 percent, according to the evaluation.

Keast received 100 percent for retention, with 133 lawyers rating him. The next highest was Johnson, with 98 percent from 131 lawyers, and 94 percent for Chicchelly from 166 lawyers.

This will be the first time Besler faces a retention vote since his appointment in June 2018 was challenged last year by Democratic lawyers, who argued Gov. Kim Reynolds didn’t meet the 30-day deadline in appointing him.

Fifth Judicial District Judge Robert Hanson ruled in April 2019 that Reynolds met the 30-day deadline and denied the petition.

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

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