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Kuhter reappointed, to serve as lone Tama Co. magistrate

Ann Kuhter

Magistrate Ann Kuhter of Toledo has been reappointed to fill a seventh term on the bench in Tama County.

Kuhter was one of three applicants to go before the Tama County Magistrate Appointing Commission for the single vacancy.

Applicants interviewed by the commission on May 21 included Kuhter, attorney Brandon Ruopp of Marshalltown and attorney Allan Richards of Tama.

The county commission is made of five members including District Court Judge Fae Hoover-Grinde, John Willett of Tama, Robert Hill of Dysart, Todd Kruse of Tama and Lori Baier of Tama.

Kuhter has served as one of two magistrate judges in Tama County since 1997, and beginning Aug. 1 will be the only resident judge to continue on.

“I enjoy my job as a magistrate,” Kuhter said. “I love coming to the courthouse and it was hard during COVID because I couldn’t be here. It’s a challenging, interesting job and I appreciate it, I truly do.”

Fellow Tama County magistrate judge Richard Vander Mey will exit his post after serving three terms. Vander Mey was not eligible to reapply for the position as he will be above the age threshold required to serve as a judge in Iowa during the next term.

The change from two magistrate judges down to one was announced in March as the judicial magistrate apportionment process that occurs every four years.

Tama County, along with Iowa County, Cass County and Fayette County fell below a weighted caseload formula threshold established by the state that determines when a second magistrate judge should be allocated to a county. Currently 35 of Iowa’s 99 counties meet the threshold for more than one magistrate judge.

The magistrate positions leaving the four rural counties will shift into Polk County, Linn County and Scott County; the three most populated counties in the state.

Magistrate judges hear cases of simple misdemeanors, traffic violations, county and municipal infractions and small claims.

Two of the most time-sensitive functions of the job are reviewing and signing off on search warrants and involuntary mental health committals.

Once Kuhter begins her next term, she is likely to be the only 6th Judicial District judge based within a 50-minute proximity of Tama County.

This could pose increased difficulty for law enforcement who would need to travel further distances to get a search warrant signed if Kuhter is not available.

“It’s going to be challenging, for all of us,” Kuhter said. “But I’m going to stay positive. We’ll learn to work together in different ways and there will be a new normal. We’ll make it the best situation that we can.”

An additional challenge will be the ability to process involuntary mental health committals. Since Kuhter is not an attorney she is not allowed to sign off on these judicial orders unless it is deemed an emergency circumstance.

In that case, another judge will be needed to complete these duties.

In her interview with the commission, Kuhter proposed she could be utilized by other counties within the district when similar judge availability issues arise, as a way to make up for the time when she’s unable to complete mental health committals in Tama County.

With Iowa County also dropping down to one magistrate judge, it is likely shared services like Kuhter suggested will become more needed in the 6th District going forward.

As of Wednesday, Iowa County had not completed their magistrate appointment process and it is unclear how close their next magistrate will be located to Tama County as a potential backup. The only other county within the 6th District that borders Tama County is Benton County, where their closest resident judge is based out of Vinton.

Ahead of the Aug. 1 transition, the district court administration office intends to meet with judicial stakeholders to comprise a protocol for coverage when magistrates like Judge Kuhter in Tama County are unavailable.