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Johnson named to District Court bench

A Fort Dodge associate judge has been appointed to the District Court bench in Iowa Judicial District 2B by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Reynolds made the announcement Wednesday evening, appointing District Associate Judge Derek Johnson to the District Court bench. The seat had been vacant since summer, when former District Court Judge Gina Badding was appointed to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

After nearly 20 years in private law practice, Johnson was appointed to serve as a district associate judge in January 2020. Currently, he presides over all serious misdemeanor, aggravated misdemeanor and Class D felony cases in Hamilton, Hardin and Wright counties. He also presides over all juvenile cases in Hamilton and Wright counties.

“I was grateful,” Johnson said when he received news of the appointment. “I told the governor I’ll do a good job.”

Johnson was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois, and moved to Clarion with his mother to finish his last year of high school. After initially intending to return to the Land of Lincoln, Johnson decided to stay in Iowa, attending Iowa Central Community College for his associate degree.

Johnson’s bachelor’s degree in business was earned from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake in May 1996.

Johnson then earned his law degree from the Drake University Law School in Des Moines in May 1999.

After a few years in private law practice in Fort Dodge, Johnson served as the Humboldt County attorney from April 2004 to May 2005. He then went back to private practice at his own firm from May 2005, until January 2020, when he was appointed as a district associate judge. In his final year in private practice, Johnson was the attorney for Webster County Drug Treatment Court.

After spending a majority of his time practicing law working in the areas of criminal and juvenile law, Johnson enjoys researching and learning about other areas of law he’s not quite as familiar with.

“I check my docket daily and hope to see a filing that requires me to explore an area of law that takes me down the ‘rabbit hole’ of legal research that I do not encounter on a day-to-day basis,” Johnson wrote in his application. “…The jurisdiction of the District Court will provide me with ample opportunity to research and write on a wide range of legal cases and issues.”

Johnson’s candidacy and appointment to the District Court bench were not without controversy, however. In October, Johnson and Humboldt County Attorney Jonathan Beaty were nominated by the District 2B Judicial Nominating Commission. In November, Reynolds rejected the nominees after learning about allegations that the commission’s then-chairman, District Court Judge Kurt Stoebe, acted inappropriately during the candidate interviews. Reynolds had then told the commission to restart the nomination process.

After restarting the process, the commission came to the same two candidates on Dec. 14.

Johnson feels in his two years as a District Associate Judge, he has shown he can perform the duties of a judge well.

“In my opinion, temperament and legal ability are the two most important attributes a judge can possess,” he wrote in his application. “Those are traits and abilities I will continue to possess as I transition from District Associate Court to District Court.”

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