An embattled northwest Iowa judge is keeping his job. Jeffrey Neary is the judge who granted a lesbian divorce late last year. His name was on the ballot in six northwest Iowa counties yesterday in a judicial retention election, and about 58 percent of voters cast a “yes” vote for him, meaning Neary gets another six-year term on the bench. Conservative groups had called for Neary’s ouster because of that controversial case. Kevin Alons of Salix headed up the “Judicial Accountability Group” which ran campaign ads against Neary. “Obviously I was disappointed I really felt that we had a chance” to unseat Neary. Alons says a lot of voters weighed in on the issue and were concerned about the “appearance of judicial activism.” Alons says he hopes other judges around the state were watching Neary’s election and they got the message from his group and others that Iowa conservatives won’t stand for judges issuing rulings contrary to state law. Nick Critelli, a lawyer from Des Moines who is president of the Iowa Bar Association, says Neary’s a good judge who deserved to keep his job. “I have never talked with Judge Neary nor have I met Judge Neary. I know him only by the quality of the work that I see come through the court system,” Critelli says. “The work that he does, the decisions are extremely high quality.” Critelli says voters in the six counties in Neary’s judicial district “exercised good judgement.” Critelli says voters resisted the temptation to allow single-issue politics to determine a judicial retention election. Critelli says folks fought hard in Iowa to keep politics out of the judicial selection process. He says the judicial systems other states where judges run as politicians do not operate as smoothly or as fairly as Iowa. Dwight James, another Des Moines attorney who leads the Iowa Bar Association’s committee on the judiciary, says the process worked.James says he was “gratified” that voters ratified Neary’s retention. “It’s always a very difficult thing when you have a single-issue campaign to unseat a judge who thought he was doing the right thing,” James says. Neary, who lives in Merrill, told the Des Moines Register that he’s glad the election is over so he can go back to work. Neary won five of the six counties in his judicial district. He lost Sioux County by 66 percent but won the most populous county in the area — Woodbury County — by 66 percent. Late last year, Neary granted a divorce to Sioux City lesbians who had gotten a civil union in Vermont. Neary has said he signed the divorce documents without looking carefully at the names and determining the gender of the two women seeking an end to their union. The case has been appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.
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