Government

Three nominated for Iowa Supreme Court vacancy

Governor now has 30 days to pick one of the finalists

Mark Cady, chief justice on the Iowa Supreme Court, arrives for the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Mark Cady, chief justice on the Iowa Supreme Court, arrives for the Condition of the State address in the House Chamber at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Two women and a Vietnamese-American man were nominated Wednesday to fill a vacancy on the Iowa Supreme Court.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has 30 days to appoint one of the three finalists forwarded by the State Judicial Nominating Commission to succeed Justice Daryl Hecht, who is undergoing treatment for cancer and retired in December.

The nominees are 1st Judicial District Chief Judge Kellyann Lekar of Waterloo; Iowa Court of Appeals Judge Christopher McDonald of Des Moines; and 5th Judicial District Judge Dustria Relph of Corydon.

Lekar, 50, has been a lawyer since 1993 and chief judge since 2012. As a result of her experience as a chief judge, Lekar believes she is “uniquely positioned” to contribute to the Supreme Court’s decision-making and administrative functions.

Iowans benefit from a diversity of perspectives “brought together in professional and robust examination of the legal issues brought before the Supreme Court,” the Iowa State University and University of Iowa law school graduate wrote in her application.

Her knowledge and understanding of the administrative duties of the court and experience in collaborating with judges, lawyers, judicial branch officers and others “will ideally suit me to add my perspective to the administrative work of the Supreme Court,” Lekar wrote.

In his application, McDonald, a graduate of Grand View University in Des Moines and the UI law school, wrote of his love for the law, the give-and-take of argument and resolving complicated issues.

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“I also seek this position because I would provide good and valuable service to the public, the judicial branch, and the Supreme Court given the unique demands of the position,” said McDonald, 43.

He also emphasized his “broad life experience” as the son of a Vietnamese mother and Scotch-Irish father. He was born in Thailand and lived on military bases around the world.

“In my career, I have continued to work and serve with persons of all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses,” McDonald said.

His experiences “reinforced in me the value of remaining open-minded and receptive to different perspectives … (and) heightened my awareness and understanding of access-to-justice and substantive-justice concerns for racial and ethnic minorities and the poor.”

Relph, 51, who earned a degree in nursing before graduating from Drake University Law School, said her entire professional career as a nurse, lawyer and judge has been about advocacy and service to others.

She also addressed the value of her gender as a Supreme Court justice.

Although confident the justices are sensitive to women’s issues, “it is probably fair to assume that none of them have personally experienced the unique challenges faced by women or other minorities,” Relph wrote in her application that was submitted before Susan Christensen was appointed last fall to the court, which for years had been all-male.

“I would bring gender diversity and the perspective of women back to the court and, perhaps, improve the public’s perception of its fairness and impartiality,” she wrote.

Information about each applicant, including video of the interviews, is posted on the Judicial Branch website.

Visit iowajnc.gov and follow the Iowa Supreme Court vacancy link.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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