The Ottumwa Courier

June 6, 2011

The merit selection of a judge

Judge Daniel Wilson

OTTUMWA — During over 18 years in the practice of law I became increasingly interested in what judges do, and how they do it. I had frequent opportunities to observe and listen to court proceedings and tried countless cases as an attorney. Those valuable experiences, and my last nearly 16 years as a district judge, have informed my opinions on the selection of judges in Iowa. This article will address the judicial selection process on two levels: 1) The nominative and appointive procedures and 2) what we should look for in a judge.

Under the Iowa Constitution district judges reach that position through a two-step, merit-selection process. First, an application is submitted to the district nominating commission made up of five lawyers from the district (elected by lawyers), five lay members (appointed by the governor), and the senior district judge. I serve as the judge on the 8A Judicial Nominating Commission. After reviewing material submitted by the applicants, the commission conducts interviews and discusses the merits of each applicant. Then the commission nominates two of the applicants to the governor who appoints one of them, within thirty days thereafter. My experiences with the nominating commission continue to renew my faith and confidence in the work of the commission and the honesty and good faith of the commissioners.

What qualities should we look for in selecting a judge? When I was sworn in as a judge almost 16 years ago, my friend Judge Terry Huitink, who was on the Iowa Court of Appeals, administered the oath and followed the oath with a few remarks. He quoted Federal Judge Edward Devitt who proposed “Ten Commandments For The New Judge.” They are as follows: “1) Be kind; 2) be patient; 3) be dignified; 4) don’t take yourself too seriously; 5) a lazy judge is a poor judge; 6) don’t fear reversal; 7) there are no unimportant cases; 8) be prompt; 9) use common sense; and 10) pray for divine guidance.”

The 8A Judicial Nominating Commission focuses on the applicant’s integrity; legal knowledge and ability; professional experience; judicial temperament; diligence and punctuality; health and stamina; record of public service; ability to get along with colleagues; communication skills and motivation. What we strive for in appointment of judges, are people who will use their best abilities and energies to serve the public, to be fair, and to do justice.

Judge Daniel P. Wilson of Centerville, is one of six district court judges serving the 8-A Judicial District, which includes these counties: Appanoose, Davis, Jefferson, Keokuk, Mahaska, Monroe, Poweshiek, Van Buren, Wapello, and Washington. He may be contacted at dan.wilson@iowacourts.gov.