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Panel Discussion to Focus on Iowa's Judiciary

Anthony Cornealius

Waldorf College will host a free panel discussion, “Iowa’s Judiciary: Present and Future,” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 31 in the Atrium at the school.

In November, Iowa voters opted to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices in a historic upset fueled by their 2009 unanimous ruling that allowed same-sex couples to marry. This ruling made Iowa the first Midwestern state to allow same-sex marriage. The removal of Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit marked the first time an Iowa Supreme court justice has not been retained since 1962.

“With the election last November of an Iowa General Assembly with a very different perspective and set of priorities from the last, one of the issues raised is impeaching the remaining Supreme Court justices and reforming the Iowa judiciary, with the impact this could have on related issues,” said Paul Bartelt, a biology professor and event organizer. “Our goal is to bring together experts from Iowa with very different views to discuss these issues with the public and address any concerns and questions held by the public.”

Bartelt said the event will explore three central questions:

  1. What are the judicial reform ideas?
  2. How would these reforms improve Iowa’s judiciary?
  3. Why should the remaining four justices be impeached?

Another goal of the panel discussion is to raise the broader issue of the relationship of the democratic process to the judiciary and the appropriateness of elections in selecting or rejecting judges, said James Scarry, an organizer and history professor at Waldorf.

The event is cosponsored by the Drake University Law School.

Although a fourth panelist is expected to be added, the current panel includes:

  • Chuck Laudner. Laudner, the former executive director of the Iowa GOP, managed the successful effort in 2010 to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices. Laudner began his career in the office of Sen. Chuck Grassley in Washington, D.C. He worked on several campaigns in Iowa throughout the 1990s and on Steve Forbes’ 2000 caucus campaign. In 2002, he managed Steve King’s first run for Congress and became his chief of staff until 2007 when he became executive director of the Iowa GOP.
  • Michael Streit. Streit is a former justice of the Iowa Supreme Court. Streit was a lawyer from Chariton, Iowa, and a part-time prosecutor before starting as a trial court judge more than 25 years ago. He graduated from the University of Iowa with an economics degree and the University of San Diego Law School. He is now in private law practice and participating in arbitration, mediation, teaching at Drake Law School, writing and lecturing.
  • Allan Vestal. Vestal is an Iowa native, having grown up in Iowa City. A graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, he practiced law for 10 years in Milwaukee, Wis., and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before entering teaching. He taught at Washington and Lee University and was the dean of the University of Kentucky College of Law before returning to Iowa in 2009 as dean of the Drake University Law School.

The event will be moderated by John Ayers, a retired lawyer and magistrate from Des Moines, Iowa, who specializes in mediation and arbitration. He has held adjunct professor positions at Waldorf College, University of Iowa and Iowa State University. Ayers now serves as president of the Des Moines Area Religious Council.