I've been a lawyer for over 30 years and served on a district judicial nominating commission. I was wondering what would happen if a justice/judge were to lose the retention vote, much less the over 70 at stake when people are being told to “throw the bums out”. The fact is, it won’t be pretty. People will be hurt if there's a number of judges not retained. Reading quickly through the 1962 Constitutional Amendment that changed the election system to a retention system and Chapter 46 of the Iowa Code, and not looking at any case law, this is the way it seems to me it will go:
In order to be retained, the judge needs to have more ‘yes’ votes than ‘no’ votes. If they do not get enough, they are not retained and in about two-three weeks a notification of the pending vacancy is given to the judicial nominating commission [state or district] [the notice of pending vacancy has to be made within 120 days from when it becomes apparent there will be a vacancy.] Since the non-retained judge ends his/her term on January 1st following the election, that notice could be made relatively soon.
Once notice is given, the nominating commission has to hold its first meeting in 10 days upon 5 days notice. The Commission has 60 days to certify its nominees to the Governor who then is able to appoint one from the list given. The Governor has 30 days to make that appointment.
In that 60 days, the people who submit their applications will need appropriate time to do so. Usually there are about 20-30 applicants and a commission has to sift through multiple pages of all their applications and, in some cases, interview the applicants and vote on them. Then the Commission certifies its nomination list to the Governor for selection and appointment within 30 days.
The new judge will need time to shut down his/her law practice [hopefully they are good enough lawyers to have a thriving practice], be sworn in and start work.
In the mean time, the court administrators will have to work with the out-going judge[s] to either shift the workload to other judges or the new judge, or to process the cases as quickly as possible. In some cases, that may be difficult if there are motions or trials coming up in November-December-January where the judge has been heavily involved. And each judicial decision by the out-going judge is subject to post-trial motions and appeals.
For the new judge, he/she will have to shut down the practice of law, be sworn in and start work, without much opportunity for training or being brought up to speed on internal court procedures.
The lawyers, judges and court personnel in the system will be just fine. They’ll do their job. But people who are dealing with the courts, the juveniles, accused, small claims parties, plaintiffs, defendants, people trying to become divorced, may have to make do with what they are given for at least the next few or many months. The courts are already stretched by budget constraints and this will complicate things further
Obviously, I believe people should vote to retain the judges and justices on the ballot. But even if you choose not to, don't just vote to wipe out the judiciary. Make your decision based on what you know about or think about a particular judge.
[There's a good discussion of this in today's Des Moines Register in an article by Grant Schulte]