Driscoll sworn in as Webster County attorney

In new twist, Baldridge rethinks position, calling it political, and steps aside

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Darren Driscoll, left, shakes hands with Judge Thomas Bice after being sworn in as the new Webster County Attorney Tuesday morning. County Supervisors Mark Campbell, left, and Bob Thode applaud.

In an unexpected move, Darren Driscoll was appointed Webster County attorney Tuesday, not the attorney who had been offered the job last week.

A second vote was required due to a procedural error. Sometime between those two votes First Assistant County Attorney Ryan Baldridge, who had formerly been appointed, rethought the position and recommended Driscoll for the job.

Baldridge said he wanted to focus more on prosecuting criminals and less on the politics of the position.

He was appointed county attorney on Feb. 13 to replace former County Attorney Jennifer Benson, who left the office on Jan. 14 to work for the Pottawattamie County attorney’s office.

On Feb. 14 the supervisors announced they would have to rescind Baldridge’s appointment and vote again because notice of the vote wasn’t published in the time frame required by law.

“After last week’s setback with the notice publication, I had the opportunity to reflect on my decision to seek the vacant position,” Baldridge said. “While I was interested in being county attorney, right now I am more interested in focusing my attention on the serious criminal cases myself and our office are prosecuting than I am being involved in the politics of this position. With an election in November, those politics would be difficult to avoid.”

He added, “I would also like to have more time to spend with my wife as we raise our young family.”

The reversal is one more twist in the path to replace Benson.

Originally, after receiving five applications, the supervisors put together a subcommittee to make a recommendation. Three candidates — Charles Kenville, Baldridge and Boone County Attorney Dan Kolacia — were then interviewed by the board on Jan. 30.

On Feb. 6, the board voted 4-1 to offer the position to Kolacia.

After Kolacia turned down the position, they voted to appoint Baldridge on Feb. 13.

“At the beginning of this process I told everyone … I am most interested in prosecuting criminal offenders and in job security for myself and others in our office,” Baldridge said. “I learned last week that Darren Driscoll was interested in this position, but that he was withholding his interest because of the chance I would be appointed.

“Frankly, Darren being appointed in this situation is the ideal scenario for me and the others in the office. He is experienced, trustworthy and will be a great leader for our office and its goal of seeking justice for our county.”

The supervisors previously reported five attorneys had applied for the position, but they never disclosed the names of all five.

Driscoll said he hadn’t applied because he wasn’t interested in competing with Baldridge. But after Baldridge made his decision both Baldridge and members of the board reached out to him, Driscoll said.

On Tuesday, he thanked the supervisors for their support and said he was “humbled and honored” by the appointment.

“I’d like to thank my wife, Carrie, for her unwavering support of me both personally and professionally over the years, as well as the support I have received from the Johnson Law Firm, where I have practiced law for the past 15 years, and the guidance I have received,” he said, “particularly from my law partners Stu Cochrane and Neven Mulholland.”

Driscoll said he’s confident of the capabilities of the attorneys in the office and has had good working relationships with all of them.

He has lived in the area all his life.

“I’m a Fort Dodge kid,” Driscoll said. “I went to St. Eds, graduated in 1995, and then went to the University of Iowa for undergrad, went to the University of Iowa for grad school.”

He worked at the Johnson Law Firm between the second and third year of law school, and returned there to practice law after graduation.

Having served as a defense attorney, there may be some cases at first on which Driscoll has to recuse himself, but Driscoll said it won’t be many.

“I have not been on the public defender’s court appointed list for about three years,” he said. “I have maybe a dozen or so, but I certainly didn’t have the caseload Chuck (Kenville) did.”

Kenville was a public defender before the Webster County public defender’s office was closed at the end of September 2017 based on “operational efficiency.”

Board of Supervisors Chair Mark Campbell said Driscoll would be an “outstanding addition” to the county.

“He did contact me at one time and showed interest, however he respected Mr. Baldridge’s application,” Campbell said. “When Mr. Baldridge said he would withdraw his application, Darren said he was very interested.

“At that time we had retained Mr. Crimmins to help us through the process, and he advised us that we could appoint anybody we wanted that had the qualifications set by the state.”

Fort Dodge City Attorney Mark Crimmins helped the board after it was discovered the vote to appoint had come too late to fulfill Iowa’s requirements for publishing the meeting.

If the voters are unhappy with the board’s choice, a special election could still be held if enough people sign a petition calling for one. The petition would need 1,743 signatures, within 14 days from when the supervisors officially make the appointment.

The county attorney will be up for re-election in November.