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Experts Challenge Reynolds Judicial Appointment, Predict His Rulings Won’t Stand

Kate Payne/IPR file
Jason Besler was installed as the new 6th district judge on July 27th in Cedar Rapids.

Three Iowa lawyers and a prosecutor in a conference call today questioned the legitimacy of Gov. Kim Reynolds' appointment of new 6th District Judge Jason Besler.   They predict that Besler’s rulings will be subject to appeal.   

Gov. Reynolds has said she made her decision to appoint Besler and communicated that to her Chief of Staff on June 21st, the constitutional deadline for making the appointment.   But she confirms she did not notify Besler or the media or the judicial branch until June 25th.    A review of documents by Democratic blogger Bleeding Heartland concludes there is no written record of any action on June 21st.     

“Judge Besler’s legitimacy is at question here,” said long-time Des Moines attorney for both civil and 

"All the decisions he has made since his putative appointment would come into question." -Atty George Appleby

criminal cases George Appleby.  “All the decisions he has made to date since his putative appointment would come into question.”

Appleby and the others, all Democrats, joined the call with reporters organized by the Iowa Democratic Party. They cite the constitutional mandate that appointments should be made by 30 days after names are submitted to the governor.

The district judicial nominating commission submitted Besler’s name and that of the other nominee Ellen Ramsey-Kacena on May 22, creating the June 21st deadline.  

“He's not a duly-appointed judge pursuant to the constitution of the state of Iowa,” said Des Moines attorney Mike Keller.   “His ability to issue rulings doesn't exist.  Anybody who does have an adverse ruling from him has more than enough room to challenge it going forward.”

"His ability to issue rulings doesn't exist." -Atty Mike Keller

Besler was installed as the new 6th district judge on July 27th in Cedar Rapids.

“If Judge Besler would have ruled against me in a case it would have been my duty to file an appeal as to whether it was a legitimately entered decision by an Iowa court,” Appleby added. 

On July 6th, counsel for Chief Justice Mark Cady, Molly Kottmeyer, wrote in a letter to Reynolds Chief of Staff Ryan Koopmans that Cady always considered an appointment was made when it was communicated to the nominee, but he deferred to the governor’s assertion that she made the appointment in time.    

“The chief justice respectfully defers to and accepts the decision by Governor Reynolds that this appointment was made on June 21,” Kottmeyer wrote.

The judicial branch was asked for comment on Monday after the legal experts’ conference call.   A spokesman responded by sending along a copy of the July 6th letter.

Appleby called on the chief justice to "rectify" the questionable appointment.

“I'm not sure there’s any precedent to provide guidance to show how the chief justice ought to do that,” Appleby said.  “I’m not saying they can't readily determine one and they should certainly do that.”

The governor’s office did not immediately return a call for comment.  Reynolds said earlier this month she is not concerned about any pall over the judge's appointment.

"I received confirmation from the court that they accepted the decision, the decision was made in a timely manner, that constitutes the appointment," Reynolds said to reporters on September 19th.  "So no, everything's fine, he'll do a great job, I have great confidence in him."