# Alan Ostergren



Only five applied for Iowa Supreme Court vacancy

The State Judicial Nominating Commission will interview an unusually small number of applicants for the Iowa Supreme Court vacancy to be created when Justice Brent Appel reaches the mandatory retirement age next month.

Only five people—three judges and two attorneys in private practice—applied for the position, the Iowa Judicial Branch announced on June 20. The commission will interview Third Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick Tott, Ames attorney Timothy Gartin, Des Moines attorney William Miller, District Court Judge Alan Heavens, and Iowa Court of Appeals Judge David May on June 27. The commissioners will send three names to Governor Kim Reynolds, who will have 30 days to appoint the next justice from that short list.

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What the Supreme Court said—and didn't say—in Finkenauer case

The Iowa Supreme Court surprised many in the political and legal worlds on April 15 with a unanimous judgment reinstating U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer to the Democratic primary ballot.

Five justices resolved an apparent contradiction between two parts of Iowa’s election law by saying an incorrect or missing date is not a valid reason for not counting a signature on a candidate’s petition. They reversed a Polk County District Court, which days earlier reached the opposite conclusion: that an undated signature cannot be counted, and therefore Finkenauer did not qualify for the ballot.

Two justices concurred with the outcome of reversing the lower court but did not explain their reasoning.

The result was a big loss for Republican plaintiffs who challenged the State Objection Panel’s decision to let three disputed signatures on Finkenauer’s petitions stand. It’s also an embarrassment for Republican legislators who moved last year to limit the panel’s discretion.

By deciding this case on narrow grounds, the Iowa Supreme Court left some big legal questions to be adjudicated another election year.

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Judge rules Abby Finkenauer should be off primary ballot

A Polk County District Court has handed a big win to Republicans seeking to knock Abby Finkenauer off the Democratic primary ballot for U.S. Senate.

Judge Scott Beattie ruled on April 10 that the State Objection Panel used the wrong legal standard when it counted signatures with missing or incorrect dates. Consequently, the court found, Finkenauer’s campaign “has failed to submit at least 100 signatures from at least 19 counties” as required by Iowa law.

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How could this happen?

During a suspenseful meeting on March 29, the State Objection Panel allowed just enough signatures to stand for U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer, Attorney General Tom Miller, and State Representative Jeff Shipley to stay on the ballot.

Finkenauer needed at least 100 valid signatures from at least nineteen counties and hit nineteen exactly, with 100 in one county and 101 in two others. The Republicans who challenged her candidacy are seeking to reverse the outcome in court.

Miller needed at least 77 signatures from at least eighteen counties, and barely made it with 78 signatures in the eighteenth county.

Shipley needed at least 50 signatures from the Iowa House district where he is seeking re-election and was left with 52.

Many Iowa politics watchers have been wondering how these experienced candidates ended up hanging by a thread.

Bleeding Heartland asked all three campaigns why they didn’t give themselves more of a cushion by collecting far beyond the minimum number of signatures. Only one candidate answered the questions.

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What is—and isn't—in lawsuit against panel ruling on Finkenauer

Two Republican voters filed suit on March 31 challenging the State Objection Panel’s decision to allow U.S. Senate candidate Abby Finkenauer to remain on the Democratic primary ballot.

Attorney Alan Ostergren, who has represented Republican candidates and committees in several high-profile election cases, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Kim Schmett and Leanne Pellett. They charge that the panel, comprised of Secretary of State Paul Pate, Attorney General Tom Miller, and State Auditor Rob Sand, should have disallowed signatures on Finkenauer’s nominating petitions where voters did not provide the correct date. Doing so would have brought the Democratic front-runner’s campaign below the threshold of 100 signatures in at least nineteen counties.

Sand and Miller voted to allow those signatures to stand; Pate would have sustained the objection to them.

The lawsuit also charges that Sand and Miller should have recused themselves from considering the objection to Finkenauer’s petitions. If the auditor and attorney general had recused, as Ostergren had requested during the panel’s March 29 meeting, Republican statewide officials would have replaced them on the panel, and would surely have ruled against letting Finkenauer compete for the Democratic nomination.

However, the plaintiffs did not raise another argument that Ostergren had argued at length when asking the panel to invalidate signatures on Finkenauer’s petitions, and those filed by two other candidates.

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This one neat trick saved Tom Miller's candidacy

Attorney General Tom Miller can remain on the Democratic primary ballot, the State Objection Panel affirmed on March 29, after determining his campaign had collected at least 77 valid signatures in eighteen counties, as required by Iowa law.

If he had been knocked off the ballot, Miller could have been nominated at the Iowa Democratic Party’s statewide convention in June. However, failing to qualify would have been an embarrassing misstep for a longtime office-holder.

Almost all of the legal arguments Miller’s representative advanced failed to convince a majority of the three panel members: Secretary of State Paul Pate, Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg, and State Auditor Rob Sand. But one neat trick forced the two Republicans to accept enough Story County signatures for the campaign to cross the threshold.

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