Iowa House panel withdraws subpoena directed at judicial-selection panel

By: - March 3, 2022 4:07 pm

(Photo by krisanapong detraphiphat/Getty Images)

An Iowa House committee has withdrawn its subpoena for information about the alleged improprieties of an Iowa judge in filling a judicial vacancy last year.

In a petition filed earlier this week in Polk County District Court, the District 2B Judicial Nominating Commission sought to quash a subpoena from the Iowa House Judiciary Committee’s investigation into the commission’s work.

Last fall, Gov. Kim Reynolds rejected the two names that were initially put forward by the commission to fill a vacancy in Judicial District 2B, which encompasses 13 counties in north-central Iowa. In a letter to the commissioners, Reynolds cited allegations that District Judge Kurt Stoebe, who chaired the commission, had acted improperly.

“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. She stated that Stoebe had allegedly referred to one applicant as “clueless,” said another “doesn’t have the heart to sit on the bench,” and falsely informed commissioners that another applicant had withdrawn from consideration.

Stoebe subsequently stepped down as the commission chairman and resigned as assistant chief judge of the district. He continues to serve as a district judge.

In February, the House committee, led by Rep. Steven Holt, a Republican from Denison, issued a subpoena directed to the commission, seeking access to all minutes taken during the October meeting, any emails sent or received by a commissioner that pertain to Stoebe’s conduct during the meeting and any notes a commissioner took during the process.

The commission objected and took the matter to court this week, arguing the Legislature has no authority to act in the matter and that its actions violate the state’s separation of powers principles by interfering with the judicial nominating process.

Commission members argued that while the state constitution gives the Iowa House the power to impeach judges, it gives the Iowa Supreme Court the power to “discipline or remove” judges for good cause.

On Thursday, House Speaker Pat Grassley confirmed the committee was withdrawing the subpoena in light of the court system’s own investigation of the matter.

“There’s going to be an investigation on the court side of things, and that’s really all along what our priority has been,” Grassley said. “We want to make sure that this is being looked into. And it’s not a situation where we’re looking the other way.”

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.

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