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July 17th, 2011

Erasing History

In a surprising development, Justice Not Politics (JNP) ever so quietly retracted its press release denouncing Governor Branstad’s appointment of Ryan Koopmans to the Judicial District 5C Nominating Commission.  Actually, JNP didn’t so much retract the press release as it erased it from its website.  And while it was at it, JNP also erased a very enthusiastic executive branch agency from its list of supporters.

On July 6, Justice Not Politics issued the following press release:

Within minutes, the Des Moines Register ran with the story without waiting to talk with Ryan Koopmans or doing any kind of fact-checking.  (The Register later had to issue a (partially) corrected article).  Justice Not Politics posted links to their press release and the Register’s story on their Facebook page:

This past Tuesday, however, JNP suddenly erased all traces of its press release from both its website and Facebook page.  Though JNP did not issue an explanation for its abrupt decision, sources close to the situation have told The Iowa Republican (TIR) that Joy Corning and other RINO members of the group had threatened to leave if the press release wasn’t taken down.  Not surprisingly, the Register has been less than eager to cover JNP’s retraction in a new story, much less to reflect JNP’s change of position in either its original and corrected stories.

JNP’s hit piece on Koopmans wasn’t the only thing to disappear from its website.  The Thursday before, on July 7th, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission was removed from JNP’s list of coalition supporters, a coalition it was a member of just one day earlier:

Again, JNP offered no explanation for its decision, and Beth Townsend, the current Executive Director of the Commission, declined TIR’s request for a comment.  As TIR reported last year, the makeup of the Commission at the time of the 2010 elections appeared to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law:

Out of a total membership of 7 of which only 4 commissioners can be Democrats, there are 3 acknowledged Democrats, 2 others who were until recently registered Democrats but now appear to be nominal Independents, and 1 Republican turned Independent who is a very generous Democratic donor.

Though now suddenly shy about its involvement with JNP, the Commission took an active role in getting local civil/human rights commissions to join JNP’s coalition before the retention vote.  Alicia Claypool, then the Commission’s chairperson who is still listed as such on JNP’s website, wrote the local commissions:

Thanks for working to sign up your commission as a supporter of the nonpartisan Justice Not Politics coalition!  I received a request to draft a press release announcing a local commission’s support for the Justice Not Politics coalition.  See attachment.  As community leaders, our voice has potential to educate and influence others about the issue of judicial retention…

The JNP coalition is focused on encouraging education about Iowa’s retention system and not telling folks how to vote on the actual retention of Iowa’s judges.  However, if your commission wishes to go that extra step, that is entirely up to you…

For those commissions that have not yet taken a position on joining the Justice Not Politics coalition, it’s not too late.  Attached is the support statement that can be signed…

According to recordings of the Commission’s board meetings obtained by TIR through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Commission spent quite a bit of time during its October 7, 2010, meeting discussing the need for local commissions to join JNP’s coalition.  Apparently, each commissioner had earlier been tasked with the responsibility of contacting several local commissions to sign them up for JNP.

One commissioner, Rich Eychaner, reported that he had hand-delivered Claypool’s letter to the Urbandale Commission.  He also stated that he was worried about the possibility that all 74 judges on the retention ballot would be voted out and that he was trying to get the media to focus on this scare tactic.

Commissioner Nancy Witt, who was simultaneously serving on the judicial nominating commission for District 1B, also echoed those concerns.  Commissioner Debbie Gitchell expressed frustration with the lack of responses by the local commissions, saying that they had lost their “mojo.”

Chairperson Claypool, who complained that she had never heard back from the Cedar Rapids Commission about joining JNP’s coalition, said that it was “scary what we are up against.”  She was upset by a recent Register poll that showed how close the retention election was, and stated that it would be a huge intimidation factor if even one judge was voted off.  It was at that point that Eychaner asked for, and received, an adjournment so they could discuss this topic more off the record.

Call it a hunch, but it’s doubtful the Iowa Democratic Party will file an ethics complaint against the commissioners, or that the Register will opine that they have politicized the office.  Imagine, however, if the Commission had supported the anti-retention group Iowans for Freedom…  And, contrary to Chairperson Clayport’s assertions in her letter to local commissions, JNP did in fact tell people how to vote from the very beginning.  Per its website (screenshot, just in case):

…the retention of Iowa judges should be based on their ability to uphold the law fairly and consistently – not on the outcome of a single decision.  In the 2010 Election, three Iowa Supreme Court Justices faced an unprecedented retention vote challenge and unfortunately, were not retained…we expect a fight to retain Justice David Wiggins in 2012.

But all the Commission’s work was for naught, as all three Supreme Court justices on the ballot were voted out of office.  At their next board meeting on December 7th, Chairperson Clayport said that, despite the frustrating result, she is glad they participated in JNP’s coalition.

She concluded that they just have to educate the public better.  They better get busy, for, as this picture from Clear Lake’s recent 4th of July parade shows, the people aren’t buying it:

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About the Author

Nathan W. Tucker
Nathan W. Tucker is a Davenport attorney and author of We The People: The Only Cure to Judicial Activism. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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