House Republicans are considering investigating an Iowa judge
House Republicans are considering opening an investigation into a north-central Iowa judge who stepped down as chair of a district judicial nominating commission last year amid allegations that he lied about an applicant being considered by the commission.
District Judge Kurt Stoebe of Humboldt County is the most senior judge in District 2B. Under Iowa law, that made him the chair of the district judicial nominating commission.
Last year, the commission sent two nominees for an open district judge position to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. She rejected both after her office received allegations that Stoebe made disparaging remarks about some applicants and falsely said one had withdrawn from consideration.
Stoebe stepped down as chair of the commission, but he is still a district court judge. When the commission went through the process again without him, it sent the same two nominees to Reynolds as it did the first time.
House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, said Tuesday he wants the Iowa House to pass a resolution that would empower his committee to obtain confidential information related to the incident.
“This is a pursuit of information,” Holt said. “Whether the information found exonerates Judge Stoebe or confirms the allegations, answers can only help ensure the trust in the judiciary, compared to a lack of information that can only breed uncertainty and doubt.”
Holt said the committee’s first step would be to issue subpoenas for documents and review them. He said he currently can’t find out if Stoebe is facing a separate investigation.
“If these allegations are true, then they go beyond just an individual’s service on a commission and speak to their integrity on the bench,” Holt said.
He said he does not know if the House Judiciary Committee has ever investigated a judge.
Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, is an attorney and serves as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. She said she is worried this would be unprecedented and could open the door to investigations of any executive or judicial branch official.
And she said the Judicial Qualifications Commission is tasked with investigating complaints about judges.
“And I have absolutely no doubt that they are currently in the middle of an investigation of the allegations set out in the resolution,” Wolfe said. “So we have concerns that we are unnecessarily duplicating efforts by a commission that has expertise in this type of work. We have concerns that we may be unnecessarily wasting taxpayer dollars and legislative time to arguably interfere in the judicial branches.”
According to a spokesperson for the Iowa Judicial Branch, the JQC and court personnel are “prohibited from disclosing the fact that a complaint was made or that an investigation is pending until the commission makes a recommendation to the supreme court.”
Wolfe said the legislature could change the law to allow lawmakers to see such complaints, rather than launching an investigation.
The Iowa Judicial Branch did not provide comment directly on Holt’s proposed investigation, and instead referred IPR to a statement about Stoebe initially released in November.
But in a previous Senate subcommittee hearing about proposed changes to judicial nominating commissions, Iowa Judicial Branch lobbyist Caitlin Jarzen said the Stoebe case “was addressed and resolved.”
Republicans on a House panel also advanced a bill Tuesday that would remove the senior judge from district judicial nominating commissions and replace them with an additional appointment by the governor.