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Iowa judges on ballots for retention

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DES MOINES — Iowa voters in this year’s general election will decide if 60 judges from across the state remain on the bench.

The state’s merit-based judicial selection system was adopted in the 1960s to keep judges from having to campaign for their jobs and safeguard against politics intruding into the courtroom.

Under the judicial selection system, the governor appoints new judges based on recommendations from a panel, but voters must approve of the judges every few years to stay on the bench.

The judges standing for retention this year include three Iowa Supreme Court judges, three judges on the state court of appeals and judges from each of Iowa’s judicial election districts.

Iowa judges up for retention this November received high marks from attorneys surveyed recently by the Iowa State Bar Association.

More than 90 percent of Iowa lawyers polled in the survey recommended retention for Iowa Supreme Court judges Brent Appel, Mark S. Cady and Daryl L. Hecht.

The poll asked respondents to evaluate the judges based on their knowledge of the law, their demeanor in court and other characteristics.

No judge on the ballots this November received a retention score of less than 66 percent in the survey.

Alan Fredregill, a Sioux City attorney and co-chairman of the committee that oversaw the survey, said the poll’s consistently high marks should help eliminate doubts voters may have about retaining the judges.

“There’s a high degree of confidence in our Iowa judicial system,” Fredregill said.

He said the results of the survey also indicate that Iowa judges are ruling based on facts and the law rather than personal opinions. Citizens shouldn’t vote against retention because they disagree with a judge’s ruling on a controversial issue, such as gay marriage, he said.

A group of citizens mounted an unsuccessful campaign to oust Woodbury County District Court Judge Jeffrey Neary in 2004 based on Neary’s decision to grant a divorce to two lesbians who had entered into a civil union in Vermont.

Iowa Supreme Court judges face retention votes every eight years, while appellate and district court judges stand for retention every six years.

The judges also stand for retention after their first full year following their appointment. A simple majority in favor of retention is required to keep a judge on the bench for another term.

Pat Harper, who is in charge of voter registration and education for the League of Women Voters of Iowa, said the state’s current judicial selection system keeps politics out of the courtroom because judges don’t have to campaign to keep their jobs.

“I think they should be out of the political process,” Harper said. “That keeps them very neutral.”

She encouraged voters to read up on the backgrounds and records of the judges on the ballot, and she said the Iowa Bar Association’s plebiscite offers a solid evaluation of a judge’s performance.

Fred Love can be reached at (515) 243-0138 or fred.love@lee.net.

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