The judicial retention elections that resulted in three justices of the state’s Supreme Court being removed from office were held in 2010, but the fallout from that time is still very much a part of the Iowa legal community’s discussions. The topic also played a role in the Iowa State Bar Association’s biennial Bench-Bar Conference.
“There’s a lot of discussion among legal profession groups” about the ramifications of the elections and their impact on the merit selection system, says Steve Boeckman, the bar’s communications director. (See “Proud of his brother, but not of the process: Iowa bar president speaks out,” Fall 2011, page 5.)
After the elections, which came about because of opposition to the court’s unanimous decision that overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, Robert Waterman, now the bar’s immediate past president, set up the Fair and Impartial Courts Committee to act as a clearinghouse for groups interested in preserving merit selection in the state, Boeckman says. That group has been monitoring the legal climate to see if organized efforts to recall any of the other justices involved in the decision emerge.
The Bench-Bar Conference, which was due to be held shortly after press time, featured a session called “Delivering Justice in Politically Charged Times.” That session, as well as one called “Courts: Society’s Emergency Room— Access to Justice, Challenges to Delivery of Due Process, and Outreach,” were likely to be where the retention election issue would be discussed, he says.
According to Waterman, the first ISBA Bench-Bar Conference, in 1989, was thought to be “the first statewide bench-bar conference in the continental United States.”
The setting is informal, with no coats or ties, and participants address each other by first names, instead of “judge” or “your honor,” Boeckman says, noting that this allows for a “free and open discussion about issues facing the legal profession.”