Justice System

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Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court Mark Cady made a rare appearance before a statehouse committee Tuesday, pleading for more money for Iowa’s court system.    

The Chief Justice presents the judicial branch needs each year in the annual Condition of the Judiciary address.     

Justice Cady told house and senate budget writers he’s never brought his case to lawmakers directly.

“I do so now to share with you my belief that the judicial branch is at a crossroads,” Cady said.

J. Stephen Conn/flickr

A plan to close court offices around the state for one day in May to help meet a budget shortfall is coming under scrutiny but the chief spokesman for the Judicial Branch  is defending the plan.   

Rank and file court employees will take a one-day unpaid leave on May 26th while judges and magistrates will be exempt.    

In a letter to court employees, Court Administrator David Boyd said it’s a matter of equity.

Flickr / Ryan J. Reilly

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, met with Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama this morning to discuss his nomination for U.S. Attorney General. Grassley’s committee will consider the appointment before the entire Senate votes.

In 1986, Sessions was rejected for a federal judgeship due to allegations of racially insensitive remarks, some of which he says were taken out of context, and others he denies. Grassley was on the Judiciary Committee at the time, and voted in favor of Sessions, though he says he couldn’t recall the hearing.

JOHN PEMBLE/IPR FILE

Over a million people voted in the judicial retention elections of three Iowa Supreme Court justices. Chief Justice Mark Cady, Justice Brent Appel and Justice Daryl Hecht were each retained with more than 64 percent of the vote.

Though almost half of registered Iowa voters participated in the election, the number who cast their ballots for or against retention of the justices was nearly half-a-million fewer than the number of Iowans who voted in the presidential race. 

Flickr / Leonieke Aalders

The Iowa State Bar Association is recommending that voters retain all 63 Iowa judges and the three state supreme court justices who are facing judicial retention elections this November. The ISBA is basing this recommendation on the 2016 Judicial Performance Review survey. 

Joyce Russell/IPR

African-American activists cheered as Governor Branstad today signed into law one of the legislative priorities of the NAACP.    

The bill will keep court records confidential in most juvenile cases.  

The bill came out of the Governor’s Working Group on Justice Policy Reform.

Activists argue that black juvenile offenders are most affected because of their disproportionate  numbers in the courts.   

John Pemble

The number of heroin overdose deaths in Iowa has increased six-fold from 2007 to 2013.

Kim Brown, of Davenport, lost her son Andy Lamp to a heroin overdose in 2011, and she now advocates for greater access to Naloxone, a common overdose reversal drug, as well as a “Good Samaritan” law, which is intended to protect those who report an overdose from arrest or prosecution. She believes that passing these laws in Iowa could prevent future deaths from heroin overdose.

Joyce Russell/IPR

A bill to make it easier for convicted criminals to re-enter the workforce after they’ve served their time was under discussion at the statehouse. 

So-called “Ban the Box” legislation is a top priority of the NAACP.  

Some job applications include a box to check if the applicant has a criminal history.   Advocates say for some that automatically impedes re-entry into normal society.  

Betty Andrews with the NAACP says blacks are affected most because of their disproportionate numbers in the criminal justice system.

Joe Gratz / Flickr

On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer talks with Judge Kevin McKeever, the newest Sixth Judicial District judge.

McKeever is the first African-American judge in the district that covers Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn and Tama counties. McKeever says his main goal is to "make people feel like they had their day in court.”

District Judge John Telleen also joins the segment to talk about Iowa’s business court pilot program, a new system built specifically for complicated business lawsuits. 

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the number of heroin overdose deaths in Iowa has increased from three in 2007 to 20 in 2013.

“Six years ago we didn’t see heroin cases, just didn’t see it,” says Nicholas Klinefeldt, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. “Now we have heroin cases; we have heroin overdose deaths. It’s here, and I think the problem is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Photo by John Pemble

The Iowa Court of Appeals today ruled in favor of a complainant in a sexual harassment case.  

The case alleges violations of Iowa’s Civil Rights statute by Iowa Senate Republicans.

Senate Republicans fired Kristen Anderson from her job as communications director in May of 2013 alleging poor job performance.   Anderson claimed she was fired for reporting sexual harassment on the job. 

Governor Branstad has announced a new Wrongful Conviction Division in the Office of State Public Defender.  

Officials will conduct DNA analysis for many as 100 inmates who may have been convicted on what’s now called “junk science.” 

The state will work with an organization known as the Innocence Project, which has helped exonerate inmates in more than 300 cases on the basis of DNA evidence.     

State officials will review Iowa cases in which hair analysis played a major role in convictions.  

Christopher Hawkins/flickr

A federal prosecutor for Iowa’s Northern Judicial District briefed an advisory group in Des Moines today on the growing problem of heroin addiction, especially in eastern Iowa.  

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Chatham addressed the Iowa Drug Policy Advisory Council.    

Chatham prosecutes drug crimes, including dozens of heroin cases which have grown as users move from prescription meds to heroin.     

He says says heroin on the streets is getting more and more potent.

Emily Woodbury

  

Note: this was originally published on October 20th, 2015.

One year and nine months after the completion of the new Iowa State Penitentiary, more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were transferred to the new grounds. On this edition of River to River – a look inside Fort Madison’s new $166 million maximum security prison.

Emily Woodbury

In August, more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were moved into the new $166 million Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. The new facility is a quantum leap ahead of the “old fort,” as it was known, some of which dated back to the 1830s, before Iowa became a state.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Black Iowans feel profiled by police, and reviews have found that Iowa’s profiling policies fall short of national standards.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with those calling for change in the way justice is implemented in Iowa, a state that holds the number one ranking in the nation for incarcerating African Americans on a per capita basis.

“The problem at this point is over incarceration; it’s not skyrocketing crime rates," says Vikrant Reddy, senior fellow at the Charles Koch Institute. "Those are actually declining."

Joyce Russell/IPR

The NAACP held a day-long symposium Friday on the overrepresentation of African-Americans in Iowa prisons.   

The symposium addressed a wide range of issues, from racial profiling to the underrepresentation of minorities on Iowa juries.  

The NAACP cites statistics showing the overrepresentation of minorities in corrections is worse in Iowa than in any other state, in particular for drug offenses.  

Arnold Woods with the Des Moines NAACP says it’s not an abstract topic for blacks.

Iowa Department of Corrections

Earlier this month, more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were transferred to a new maximum-security prison in Fort Madison.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Bill Petroski of the Des Moines Register about the transfer, the differences in the new and old facilities, and the roughly $175 million cost of the prison, originally estimated at $130 million.

Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden

The Des Moines and Waterloo offices of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley are now in possession of roughly 600 toy, candy, and corn cob pipes.

Paul De Los Reyes / Flickr

Local and national politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have called for reforms aimed at reducing America’s prison and jail populations, particularly nonviolent offenders like drug users.

In a speech earlier this month to the NAACP, President Obama said the U.S. needs to fund more drug courts.

Joyce Russell/IPR file photo

Governor Branstad says last week’s momentous U.S. Supreme Court ruling will not have a big impact in Iowa, since same-sex marriage has been well-established in the state since 2009.  

The governor today commented on the fact that county officials in other states may try to deny licenses to same-sex couples in protest.   

Branstad says he’s not aware of any way that could happen here.

Angelo Mercado/flickr

With some opposition, the Iowa Senate today approved a resolution that will allow the Meskwaki settlement near Tama to assume jurisdiction for criminal justice.

Tama County oversees law enforcement and prosecutions at the settlement.  

The resolution asks the federal government to repeal a 1948 law giving the state of Iowa oversight of offenses by Meskwakis against Meskwakis.  

State Center Democrat Steve Sodders says tribal leaders  have been asking for this for a long time.

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged Governor Branstad’s decision to close the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo last year.  

Democratic lawmakers and a public employee union leader sued, claiming the governor exceeded his authority by closing the home after the legislature appropriated money to run it.    

The court ruled the case is moot since no money was appropriated to reopen the home.  

John Pemble / IPR

Attorneys in a lawsuit over the closing of the Iowa Juvenile Home for Girls in Toledo presented oral arguments before the Iowa Supreme Court.   

Mark / flickr / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Last year's legislation that decriminalized possession of cannabis oil for treatment of chronic epilepsy has not changed much for Iowa patients hoping to use the drug for treatment.

Photo by John Pemble

Attorneys are keeping an eye on a juvenile sentencing case before the Iowa Supreme Court.  

Jeff Kubina / flickr

Has the U.S. Supreme Court become a partisan institution? According to polls, many Americans think so.

Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to take up any of the cases before them involving same-sex marriage.

John Pemble / IPR

The Iowa legislative calendar has the last day of the 2014 session falling late next month. Last week Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, said Iowa Republicans and Democrats have gotten better working together.

Photo by Dean Borg

On a strict party line vote, the Iowa Senate  approved a Democratic bill calling for a facility for delinquent girls in Iowa comparable to the boy’s facility in Eldora.  But  Republicans say a state-run institution  isn’t necessary, and the private sector can fill the need.   

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