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Antigay Iowans come together to oust judge

Antigay Iowans come together to oust judge

A group of northwest Iowans has formed a political action committee to try to unseat a state judge who granted a divorce to a lesbian couple joined in a Vermont civil union. The Judicial Accountability Group, which filed organizational papers last week, will raise money for an effort to oust district judge Jeffrey Neary from the bench this fall. Only four Iowa judges have been voted off the bench since the retention system was adopted more than 40 years ago to let voters decide if a judge should stay on the job. A majority vote is required to ensure a judge's retention. Neary "chose as a judge to make a decision that was unconstitutional," said Kevin Alons, 35, a self-employed computer software developer in Salix and member of the group. "What he did is clearly wrong." Neary, 46, of Merrill, was appointed by Gov. Tom Vilsack in October 2002. He faces his first retention for a six-year term. The six-county area he serves, which includes Sioux City, is mostly rural and heavily Republican. Neary said his opponents "certainly have the right under the Iowa constitution to do these sorts of things, and I don't have any difficulty with that. What's perhaps unfortunate is that folks who have been critical of me have never met me, and I would welcome the opportunity to visit with them." In November Neary approved a divorce for two Sioux City lesbians who had been united in a civil union in Vermont. He said he signed the papers without noting the gender of the parties. But when he discovered they were women, he declined to withdraw the order. He said the divorce was permissible under a legal concept that requires states to recognize laws of other states. Neary said the approval did not recognize same-sex marriages but was a ruling on a dispute between two parties involving property distribution. Neary followed the decision with an amended ruling that said he ended only their civil union in Vermont, not a marriage. A group of conservative lawmakers has appealed Neary's ruling to the Iowa supreme court, which has not indicated when it will rule or even if the lawmakers have the legal standing to appeal. Alons claims Neary's decision could be the first step toward recognition of civil unions and same-sex marriages in Iowa. "I find it offensive that they're focusing on one action of a judge to claim he's not fit," said Sharon Malherio, president of the Gay and Lesbian Resource Center in Des Moines. "I feel fairly confident there is a group of not only gays and lesbians but of heterosexuals who would be very much in opposition to this movement and will do much to make sure Judge Neary is retained." Nick Critelli, president of the Iowa State Bar Association, said his organization might jump into the fray too. He said judges should not fall under attack for politically sensitive decisions.

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