Oversight hearings unlikely until session

Sen. Amy Sinclair

Sen. Amy Sinclair chairs the Iowa Senate’s Government Oversight Committee and led a hearing Oct. 4 regarding the break-ins at the Dallas County and Polk County courthouses. The incidents remain under investigation, but there were two arrests related to the one in Dallas County. Those arrested told members of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office they were hired to do so by the Iowa Judicial Branch as a way to test security of court documents.

“I want to begin with an apology, to you and to everyone for diminishing public trust and confidence in the court system,” Chief Justice Mark Cady said in a prepared statement. “As the leader of the judicial branch, I take full responsibility, just as I take responsibility to repair the damage and rebuild trust. In our efforts to fulfill our duty to protect confidential information of Iowans from cyberattack, mistakes were made. We are doing everything possible to correct those mistakes, be accountable for the mistakes, and to make sure they never, ever occur again.”

The Judicial Branch contracted with a company called Coalfire to perform these tests in 2015. According to Sinclair, the issue arose because the tests were performed at night when the courthouses were closed. These tests have traditionally been performed during the courthouses’ hours of open operation.

The issue is further complicated because while Iowa Code commands counties to provide space for court services, the buildings belong to their respective counties. The Judicial Branch, nor its contractors, had no right to enter the buildings when they were closed to the public.

Sinclair said limited information could be presented at the hearing, due to the ongoing investigation. She believes it was a mistake, albeit a costly one. To try to reduce the financial burden on Dallas County, Polk County and State of Iowa taxpayers, she does not intend to hold any more hearings regarding the break-in until the legislative session begins in January.

As for the Supreme Court of Iowa, the 2020 general election ballot will include questions of retention of four justices. Justices David Wiggins, Thomas Waterman, Edward Mansfield and Susan Christensen will be up for retention on the ballot. Cady’s term on the court expires Dec. 31, 2024, though the justices may choose a different Chief before the end of his term.