Iowa governor rejects judge nominees, citing tainted process

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s governor took the rare step Thursday of rejecting two nominees for an open judgeship, saying a judge who chaired the nominating commission tainted the process by favoring one candidate and opposing others.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a letter to the District 2b Judicial Nominating Commission that it is only the second time in Iowa history that a governor has taken such a step.

She noted that she is normally required to appoint judges from a list of nominees submitted by the nominating commission within 30 days. But she said the commission’s chairman, Judge Kurt Stoebe, acted inappropriately on Oct. 12 when the commission met to interview several candidates for a district judge vacancy created by the appointment of Gina Badding to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

After the interviews, the commission recommended Humboldt County Attorney Jonathan Beaty and district associate judge Derek Johnson for the opening. Reynolds on Thursday rejected both finalists and told the commission to restart the nomination process, beginning with a phone call on Nov. 18.

The district covers a swath of central Iowa from Ames to Fort Dodge.

Reynolds wrote in her letter that commissioners reached out to her office after the Oct. 12 meeting to raise concerns about Stoebe’s conduct, and her staff launched an investigation.

Several commissioners voiced frustration about favoritism that Stoebe showed toward one applicant, which included giving the person extra interview time and favorable “coaching,” she wrote.

They said that Stoebe made “uncomfortable” and “disturbing” comments about other applicants. Stoebe questioned whether one was up for the job given family obligations and young children at home, criticized an applicant’s business and personal dealings at length, and said his nickname for another applicant was “Clueless.”

But Reynolds said the most jarring conduct involved Stoebe’s “significantly misleading comments” that resulted in one applicant being unfairly excluded from consideration.

Stoebe told the commissioners that the applicant had withdrawn from consideration after his interview, which turned out not to be true, Reynolds wrote. The applicant had made such a statement “in jest” to a court reporter before his interview but was adamant that he hadn’t withdrawn, she wrote.

“Judge Stoebe’s conduct in this selection process wasn’t just unprofessional; his significantly misleading comments about the applicant withdrawing their application tainted this selection process to such an extent that the commission did not carefully consider each individual” as required by Iowa code, Reynolds wrote.

Reynolds’ letter did not identify the candidate Stoebe allegedly favored or the one who was excluded.

Stoebe, of Humboldt, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. He has been a district judge since 2011.

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