Government

Most seeking Iowa justice opening are women

Commission interviewing to replace retiring Bruce Zager

Bettendorf lawyer Jean Dickson, left, makes her pitch Monday to members of the Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission who are interviewing 22 applicants seeking to fill a vacancy on the Iowa Supreme Court. The commission is slated to wrap up the interviewing process Tuesday before narrowing the list of applicants to three candidates from which Gov. Kim Reynolds will appoint a replacement for retiring Justice Bruce Zager, who plans to step down in September. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
Bettendorf lawyer Jean Dickson, left, makes her pitch Monday to members of the Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission who are interviewing 22 applicants seeking to fill a vacancy on the Iowa Supreme Court. The commission is slated to wrap up the interviewing process Tuesday before narrowing the list of applicants to three candidates from which Gov. Kim Reynolds will appoint a replacement for retiring Justice Bruce Zager, who plans to step down in September. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — A state nominating commission Monday began interviewing 22 candidates — 15 women and seven men — seeking to be appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds to serve on the Iowa Supreme Court after Justice Bruce Zager retires in September.

“This is my first job interview in 25 years,” Bettendorf lawyer Jean Dickson told the 17-member Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission.

The commission is scheduled to complete the 25-minute interviews under Iowa’s merit-selection process Tuesday and then narrow the list to three candidates to be submitted to the governor. Reynolds, making her first state Supreme Court appointment, will have 30 days to review the three nominees and name one to fill the vacancy created when Zager, from Waterloo, steps down from the seven-member court Sept. 3.

The commission is chaired by Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins of Des Moines and 16 members each serving one six-year term. Other commission members include eight lawyers elected by lawyers licensed to practice law in Iowa and eight non-lawyers appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Iowa Senate. The Iowa Constitution requires that commission members be chosen without regard to political affiliation.

Iowa’s merit-selection process was approved by voters in 1962 in a constitutional amendment. Merit selection is designed to emphasize the professional qualifications of applicants for judicial appointment and minimize partisan politics. In keeping with this intent, the commission put applicants for judicial office through a rigorous screening by reviewing extensive information about each applicant’s background, education, professional skills and experience.

The list of applicants seeking to replace Zager included private lawyers, sitting judges, two assistant U.S. attorneys, one assistant Iowa Attorney General and an Iowa Court of Appeals judge.

The applicants for the court are: Romonda Belcher, district associate judge, 5th Judicial District, Des Moines; Mary Chicchelly, district court judge, 6th Judicial District, Cedar Rapids; Susan Christensen, district court judge, 4th Judicial District, Harlan; Terri Combs, lawyer, West Des Moines; Jean Dickson, lawyer, Bettendorf; Barb Diment, lawyer, West Des Moines; Timothy Gartin, lawyer, Ames; Mary Pat Gunderson, lawyer, Des Moines; Andrew Kahl, assistant U.S. attorney, Southern District of Iowa, Des Moines; Mitchell Kunert, lawyer, Des Moines; Christine Lebron-Dykeman, lawyer, Des Moines; Kellyann Lekar, 1B district court judge, Waterloo; Lana Luhring, lawyer, Center Point; Christopher McDonald, Iowa Court of Appeals judge, Des Moines; Craig Nierman, lawyer, Iowa City; Dustria Relph, district court judge, 5th Judicial District, Corydon; Allan Richards, lawyer, Tama; Anjela Shutts, lawyer, Des Moines; Abbe Stensland, lawyer, Lisbon; Patrick Tott, district court judge, 3rd Judicial District, Sioux City; Molly Weber, assistant Iowa Attorney General, Adel; and Lisa Williams, assistant U.S. attorney, Northern District of Iowa, Iowa City.

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Each candidate’s application is posted online. The interviews are being live streamed and the videos archived on the Iowa Judicial Branch YouTube channel, for those unable to observe in person. The commission is accepting written comments from the public about the qualifications of any of the applicants. Comments must be submitted to the secretary of the commission by the end of all of the interviews. Comments may be emailed to appellate.vacancy@iowacourts.gov. Comments also may be mailed to Iowa State Judicial Nominating Commission Secretary, 1111 E. Court Av., Des Moines, IA 50319.

According to Judicial Branch officials, for candidates to be eligible for appointment to the court, they must be a resident of the state, licensed to practice law in Iowa, and “must be of such age that they will be able to serve an initial and one regular term of office before reaching the age of 72.”

No women currently serve on the Iowa Supreme Court, but nearly 70 percent of the applicants to succeed Zager are women.

Zager announced his retirement plans in May. His judicial career spans 19 years, including 12 years on the district court bench. He was appointed by former Gov. Terry Branstad and began serving on the Iowa Supreme Court on March 23, 2011.

“It has been my distinct honor and privilege to serve as the 110th justice in the 180-year history of the Iowa Supreme Court,” Zager said in a statement.

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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