Government

Judge: Gov. Reynolds met deadline to appoint 6th Judicial District Judge Jason Besler

Lawyer's petition to challenge denied

Sixth Judicial District Court Judge Jason Besler listens as Jeffrey Thompson, Iowa solicitor general, addresses 5th 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 Besler’s appointment because Gov. Kim Reynolds missed the deadline. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Sixth Judicial District Court Judge Jason Besler listens as Jeffrey Thompson, Iowa solicitor general, addresses 5th 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 Besler’s appointment because Gov. Kim Reynolds missed the deadline. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — A judge ruled this week that Gov. Kim Reynolds met the 30-day deadline to appoint 6th Judicial District Judge Jason Besler last year, therefore denying a Des Moines lawyer’s petition to challenge the appointment.

Fifth Judicial District Judge Robert Hanson, in his ruling filed Tuesday, said Besler’s appointment was effective at the time Reynolds decided to appoint him on or before June 21, 2018, when she “verbally communicated her decision to her chief of staff and therefore was within the 30-day” deadline required by the Iowa Constitution.

Hanson said Gary Dickey, a Des Moines lawyer who argued during a February hearing that Besler was “unlawfully holding office” because his appointment wasn’t made within the 30-day deadline, doesn’t cite any binding legal authority to support his argument.

Hanson also said it doesn’t matter if Besler wasn’t notified until June 25 or that it wasn’t in writing. Iowa law requires appointments to be in writing and filed in the office of the Iowa Secretary of State, but “does not require those events to occur on the date the appointment is due.”

Dickey’s application to file a civil petition to challenge the appointment is denied, Hanson said.

Dickey isn’t giving up the challenge.

He filed an appeal, asking the judge to reconsider. He claims, in the appeal, that Judge Hanson prematurely decided the legal merits of the dispute instead of considering the limited question of whether he should be allowed to file a petition.

Dickey told The Gazette on Thursday that he wanted to emphasize that this petition has “no bearing on Jason Besler’s fitness to be a judge.” He said the petition is necessary because Reynolds failed to follow the state Constitution and the issue is “too important not to appeal.”

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.

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.

Iowa Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson, Besler’s lawyer during the February hearing, said when this issue was raised, the attorney for Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady communicated with Reynolds’ 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 the appointment, Thompson said. Cady also sent Besler a formal letter congratulating him on the appointment.

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

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

Besler took the bench last July, after working 18 years as an assistant Linn County Attorney. He will not handle criminal cases in Linn County for a year 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.

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

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