Monroe Courthouse Weapons (copy)

In this June 11, 2021 file photo, a sign showing a prohibition of guns inside the Monroe County Courthouse is at the center of a dispute in a lawsuit between the county, one of its citizens and the Iowa Firearms Coalition.

ALBIA — The signs prohibiting firearms from the Monroe County Courthouse are illegal and have now been removed following a judge's order.

The ruling came from Judge Joel Yates last week in a bizarre case that pitted Monroe County against one of its citizens and the Iowa Firearms Coalition.

The citizen, J.D. Thompson, had used materials from the Iowa Firearms Coalition when he argued to county supervisors that their firearm prohibition violated a 2020 state law. Monroe County Attorney John Pabst in turn filed a lawsuit naming Thompson and the coalition as defendants.

Pabst told Yates that the county sought nothing from either defendant, but instead filed the lawsuit naming them as a means to get an answer as to the legality of the gun prohibition signs at the courthouse.

Yates ruled that the county did not have standing for its lawsuit, tossing its motion for summary judgment. Citing Iowa Supreme Court precedent, Yates wrote that there must be a “justiciable controversy, and not just a desire for a decision on a point of law or fact.”

What Yates ruled on, instead, was one of the counterclaims filed by Thompson and the coalition challenging the ban.

The county had argued they were required to prohibit firearms because of two 2017 orders by the late Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady. The most recent order entered, however, gives counties the ability to opt-out of firearm prohibitions in joint-use spaces of courthouses.

Yates wrote, “This court thinks the more reasonable interpretation is that the December order recognized the judicial branch lacked the authority to regulate these public or joint use spaces without the consent of the county, and therefore created a process by which the county could choose to accept or reject the prohibition in those spaces.”

Then, Yates pointed to the 2020 law cited by Thompson and the coalition, and found Monroe County in violation of it. The law requires counties wishing to ban firearms in courthouses to provided armed security officers and metal detectors. Monroe County has neither.

As part of the order, the county will have to pay Thompson’s and the coalition’s attorney fees and court costs, as well as any damages.

Counterclaims filed by Thompson and the coalition remain active, and a jury trial has been requested. Those claims include that the county illegally released the fact that Thompson is a firearm owner with valid permits, and claiming unlawful retaliation by the county for constitutionally protected rights.

The signs were removed as of Thursday, Pabst said in a court filing.

Kyle Ocker is the editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at kocker@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.

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Kyle Ocker is a Centerville native and award-winning multimedia journalist. Kyle is currently the president of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and vice president of the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.

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