Iowa judge won’t lead selection panel after favoritism claim

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa judge accused of trying to rig a judicial nomination to get a favored candidate appointed to the bench will not lead any future selection processes, the Iowa Judicial Branch said Friday.

District Judge Kurt Stoebe could also face an investigation by the Iowa Judicial Qualifications Commission, an independent body that investigates allegations of misconduct, the Judicial Branch said in a statement. The Iowa Supreme Court could discipline Stoebe, who was appointed by then-Gov. Chet Culver in 2011, only after receiving a report from the commission.

Gov. Kim Reynolds on Thursday said an investigation by her staff found that Stoebe’s misconduct tainted the process of interviewing candidates and recommending finalists for an open district court judgeship in District 2b in central Iowa.

Reynolds rejected the two nominees submitted by the 11-member district nominating commission for which Stoebe served as chairman, and she ordered the commission to start from scratch.

The Judicial Branch statement said Stoebe has agreed to step down as chairman of the commission “in light of the concerns raised” by other members.

His resignation comes even though the Iowa Constitution states that the judge with the most seniority in the district “shall” chair such commissions. The Judicial Branch said Judge James Ellefson, the second most senior judge in the district behind Stoebe, will now lead the commission, which is expected to meet next week.

After interviewing several candidates on Oct. 12, the commission unanimously signed a report recommending Humboldt County Attorney Jonathan Beaty and district associate judge Derek Johnson. Under Iowa’s law for merit-based judicial nominations, the governor would normally have 30 days to select one of them.

But commissioners told the governor’s office that Stoebe favored one candidate throughout the process, made unprofessional comments criticizing others, and unfairly excluded an applicant by falsely claiming he had withdrawn after his interview.

Reynolds said Stoebe’s conduct justified her “extraordinary” move to reject the nominees, which she noted had only happened one other time in Iowa history.

Stoebe did not respond to a message seeking comment, and a court spokesman said the Judicial Branch statement was his reply.