Judge resigns assistant chief position after disparaging remarks

By: - November 12, 2021 5:10 pm

(Photo by Getty Images)

District Judge Kurt Stoebe resigned as assistant chief judge of the state’s 2B judicial district Friday after his disparaging remarks about candidates to fill a judicial vacancy led Gov. Kim Reynolds to reject his nominating commission’s picks.

District Judge Kurt Stoebe (Photo courtesy of Iowa Judicial Branch)

“It is with sadness that I must inform you of my resignation as assistant chief judge,” Stoebe wrote in an email to his colleagues Friday. “It has been a great pleasure to serve you over the past year.”

Stoebe criticized another sitting judge in his district and an attorney who were being considered last month by a judicial nominating commission of which he was chairperson, according to three people familiar with the situation who spoke to Iowa Capital Dispatch on the condition their names not be reported.

Stoebe’s comments came to light Thursday when Reynolds rejected the commission’s two nominations to fill a vacancy in the 2B district, which encompasses 13 counties in north-central Iowa.

“Several commissioners voiced frustration with favoritism shown in the interview process toward one applicant and unprofessional comments made by Judge Stoebe about other disfavored applicants,” Reynolds wrote in a letter to the commissioners.

During the commission’s deliberations on Oct. 12, Stoebe referred to one applicant by a nickname of “clueless” and said another “doesn’t have the heart to sit on the bench,” Reynolds wrote.

Stoebe also incorrectly told commissioners that another applicant had withdrawn from consideration, Reynolds said.

None of those candidates received a nomination for the district judge vacancy, people familiar with the situation said, but it’s unclear whether Stoebe’s remarks had any palpable impact on the final selections.

Regardless, Reynolds said Stoebe’s conduct tainted the selection process to the extent it didn’t comply with Iowa law that requires the commission to carefully consider each applicant.

Stoebe and the judge he allegedly disparaged did not respond to requests to comment for this article. The attorney he allegedly criticized declined to comment.

Stoebe relinquished his role with the commission, according to a statement Friday by the Iowa Judicial Branch, and District Judge James Ellefson will replace him.

Reynolds said the rejection of the nominations by a governor had happened only one time before. A nominating commission was forced to rescind its picks in 1982 after Gov. Robert Ray’s staff found that the nominations were made too early, according to an Aug. 28, 1982, Quad-City Times article. The commission had convened too soon after a judge announced his resignation, which wasn’t effective until several months later.

The candidates who applied this year for the district judge position — which was vacated by Judge Gina Badding when she was appointed to the Iowa Court of Appeals — included:

— Jonathan Beaty, Humboldt County attorney
— Jonathan Holscher, assistant Story County attorney
— Derek Johnson, district associate judge
— Joseph McCarville, district associate judge
— Ben Meyer, attorney in Laurens
— Jerry Schnurr III, attorney in Fort Dodge
— Joseph Tofilon, district associate judge
— Arach Wilson III, attorney in Ames whose practice is in Des Moines

The commission nominated Beaty and Johnson. It is set to restart the process on Nov. 18.

District judicial nominating commissions are typically composed of five lawyers, five non-lawyers and the most-senior district judge as chairperson.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register. His investigative work exposing police misconduct has notched several state and national awards. He is a longtime trustee of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, which fights for open records and open government. He is a lifelong Iowan and has lived mostly in rural western parts of the state.