AP NEWS

Lawyer sues Gov. Reynolds over new judicial nominating law

September 24, 2019

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Des Moines lawyer who interviewed to be an Iowa Court of Appeals judge but wasn’t a finalist is suing Gov. Kim Reynolds and other state officials, arguing a new law that gives the governor more power over the commission that selects Supreme Court and appeals judges is unconstitutional.

It’s the second such lawsuit filed in state court challenging the measure passed by lawmakers in April during the final days of the legislative session and signed a few days later by Reynolds.

The law shortened the term of Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady, removed Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins from the commission and allowed Reynolds to replace him with her own appointee. Critics say the changes shifted the balance of the commission, allowing the GOP governor to get more conservative nominees onto the courts.

Supporters of the law say lawyers had too much clout in deciding which judicial nominees were sent to the governor and the change places more control with the governor, an elected official instead of non-elected members of the state bar association.

The first lawsuit, filed by a group of Democratic legislators and a member of the State Judicial Nominating Commission, was dismissed in June by a judge who said the legislators and commission member lacked standing to sue. An appeal of that decision is before the Iowa Supreme Court and will take months to resolve.

The new case was filed on Sept. 11 by Thomas Duff, a trial lawyer for 30 years who focuses on personal injury, employment law and medical malpractice.

His legal challenges to the new law are similar to the first lawsuit, but he believes since he was personally affected by the new makeup of the commission he has a better chance of proving standing to sue.

He’s asking the court for an expedited hearing on his request for a temporary injunction to immediately stop the judicial selection procedure outlined in the law and halt the section of the law that alters the term of office for the chief justice.

A judge set a hearing for Oct. 11.

Duff also seeks a permanent finding that the law is unconstitutional, in part because he says it violates the separation of powers article of the state constitution, claiming the lawmakers cannot change the term of chief justice because it is an improper encroachment on the judicial branch by the legislative branch.

He said Republican efforts to control the courts undermine the credibility of the courts and people’s confidence in the judicial system.

“I do feel that the way that the bill was passed that this strikes me as politicization of the court which I have always thought was a bad idea whether it’s Democrats or Republicans,” he said Monday in an interview.

Sixteen people applied for the job that became available with the July 1 retirement of Iowa Court of Appeals Judge Gayle Vogel. The names of three finalists were sent to the governor on Aug. 5 including two judges and a lawyer from Ames. Reynolds has 30 days from the date she received the nominees to name a judge.

A spokesman for the Iowa attorney general declined to comment and the governor’s office did not respond to a message.