The Ottumwa Courier

January 30, 2013

On picking a partner

Court Calls


OTTUMWA — Feb. 2 is marked on my calendar. It’s the deadline for Gov. Terry Branstad to pick my new partner on the 8-A judicial bench. As you know from the press reports, one of our District 8-A judges, James Blomgren, retired from judicial service Dec. 6, triggering a process to fill the vacancy.

In Iowa’s method of merit selection, I know that whoever takes the bench will have been through a rigorous review and be highly talented and reputable. Yet, it still leaves the teammates a bit anxious to learn who the new player will be.

You may have read in recent Courier coverage about the district’s Judicial Nominating Commission interviewing candidates and nominating two for the governor to consider. The governor’s interviews of the finalists was held Jan. 24, and he is carefully reviewing information about the two contenders from a wide variety of sources.

Usually the governor uses most of the 30-day period allowed by the Iowa Constitution to study the important choice. Once he announces his pick, the appointee has 30 days to wind up professional obligations and begin new judicial duties.    

The new judge’s tenure in the office will be a question on the 2014 general-election ballot: If the judge receives more than 50 percent of the votes cast in this initial public review, a six-year term is earned until the next retention ballot for that judge in 2020.  

During the general election last fall, there was considerable public discussion about the way Iowa judges are selected. Rather than having partisan political elections, ours is a process based on the qualifications of the applicants, and there is much public participation. Iowa judges are public officials in office by virtue of public assent.

The people have input at the outset through lay commissioners who scrutinize the candidates and help make the decisions at the nomination stage. Next, the governor gets feedback at the appointment stage. And then the public implements accountability for its judges by voting at the retention stage.  

Our new 8-A district judge will soon join the other five of us in our mission to provide the best possible judicial services to the people of our district.

I am proud to be part of one of the most highly rated judicial branches in the country and look forward to welcoming my new partner to the bench.  

Judge Gookin was appointed to the district court in 2011 and was retained for a full six-year term in the 2012 general election. He lives in Fairfield and serves the 10-county 8-A Judicial District. He may be reached at