Early voting is underway in Lee County ahead of the May 2 special election. The ballot includes a contested race for county attorney between current prosecutor Ross Braden of West Point and assistant county attorney Clinton Boddicker of Keokuk.
The race is essentially a rematch. The Lee County Board interviewed three people, including Braden and Boddicker, in mid-February to replace Mike Short, who stepped down after more than 40 years as Lee County prosecutor.
Braden was working as a defense attorney in Fort Madison at the time while Boddicker was the 1st Assistant County Attorney under Short. Braden’s references included Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber and Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers, while Boddicker’s list included Short and District Associate Judge Gary Noneman.
The county board eventually backed Braden by a 3-2 vote for the appointment, though it turned out to be very short-lived.
State law indicates that an appointment lasts until the next countywide election, which became May 2 thanks to the county board setting a $2.6 million bond referendum for the Lee County Health Department for that day.
As a result, the county attorney race ended up on the ballot and the only two people to apply were Braden and Boddicker.
Ross Braden (resume available)
Ross Braden said he’s always been drawn to the legal field, be it through the courtroom or as a law enforcement officer. He said he even considered a career as a police officer while completing his undergraduate degree at Western Illinois University.
Eventually, though, the courtroom won out, so he went to law school at Southern Illinois University.
Braden said he’d always been drawn to being a prosecutor, but with no openings in the Lee County Attorney’s Office after he passed the bar exam, he started working in 2012 as a private attorney for Saunders & Braden Law Firm in Fort Madison.
Braden said the idea of being a prosecutor stuck with him, and the retirement of Short as County Attorney gave him the opportunity to serve.
“I'm even more motivated now that I am a father and a husband and a member of this community,” said Braden. “I'm even more so motivated now to make sure this is a safe community moving forward for my daughters to grow up in. I'm from here and my roots are here and I plan on staying here long term. I want to do what I know I can do to improve our community."
Braden said after his appointment, he worked quickly to find new legal counsel for all of his pending cases from his private practice so he could get right to work as Lee County Attorney.
During his first two months on the job, Braden has reshuffled the caseloads for the two full-time and two part-time county attorneys, reassigned Boddicker to Keokuk (which is where he lives) and added his office’s phone system to the countywide system in an effort to reduce long distance bills.
Braden said if elected on May 2, he would work to get his attorneys remote access to the office’s computer system as a way to improve efficiency.
“Attorneys are frequently on the go, especially our part-time assistants, so as of right now, we can only access our servers through our county office,” said Braden. “If I am able to implement the change I would like to, that would streamline the process for our attorneys and enable us to access our software remotely and streamline it to our other devices as well as our phones to streamline our phones. That way, if we have 15 minutes at home we could be working on something or in between… clients if they have 15, 20, 30 minutes, that will allow us to work from anywhere."
While Braden is working to improve efficiency, he believes right now the office is staffed properly. He said if there was more money available, it would be better to have more attorneys, but he said at this point, he is not prepared to ask to increase a part-time assistant county attorney to full-time status.
Braden said as county attorney, he will look at each case individually to decide if it should go to trial or if a plea bargain is appropriate.
“I don’t think there is any generalizing one type of case in particular,” said Braden. “I would say that a large number of cases do plea-bargain, not just here in Lee County, but nationwide. It is a necessary tool for prosecutors and that's why we have to use our discretion and our better judgement."
Braden went on to say that there are certain cases where for him, a plea bargain would be much less of an option. The list includes murder, sexual assault of a minor and domestic abuse with serious injuries.
“Those are the types of cases where I’m going to be inclined to say prison is justified and I am not going to settle for anything less,” said Braden. “So where there are particularly heinous offenses, although I cannot over-generalize as every case is different, but serious offenses, I do believe that there is no room to plea bargain unless that is going to involve prison for certain offenses."
Braden said he believes Lee County residents are ready to see a change in the Lee County Attorney’s Office after decades under the same leadership.
Clinton Boddicker (resume available)
Boddicker said it is the steady leadership of former County Attorney Mike Short that led Boddicker to enter the race to replace Short. Boddicker said Short approached him after deciding to retire and asked if he would consider replacing him.
“I told him I was and that is why I am running,” said Boddicker. “I want to continue the good job that Mike was doing."
Boddicker said his #1 asset is his experience.
Boddicker spent roughly 12 years in private practice after completing undergraduate degrees in political science and history from the University of Northern Iowa and his law degree from the University of Iowa.
Boddicker said he did so because there were not any openings in the Lee County Attorney’s Office after he passed the bar exam. He said he jumped at the opportunity once a spot opened up in 2008.
“When I worked in law school, I was a prosecuting intern in Muscatine County for almost a year,” said Boddicker. “I prosecuted simple misdemeanor cases at that point. I really enjoyed working in the… office. Of course, when i moved to Lee County, all the prosecuting positions were full so when one came open, I was more than happy to try that because it was something I always looked forward to doing based on my earlier experience in Muscatine County."
Boddicker said what he learned most from Mike Short, and what he will continue to work towards if elected, is to do justice in each case. Boddicker said it’s like a balancing act.
“You have to try to protect the rights of the defendant, to ensure that he or she gets a fair trial,” said Boddicker. “But you also have to look out for society as a whole, the community as a whole. You have to look at protecting the community and getting justice for the victims of crimes too, so you have to wear a number of hats while you are prosecuting."
Boddicker agreed with Braden when it comes to looking at each case on an individual basis. Boddicker said a county attorney must consider the nature of the crime, the ability to seek restitution for any victims, and the possibility of rehabilitation for the offender.
"I try to put people in two groups.” Said Boddicker. “One group of non-violent offenders that look like a good bet for rehabilitation or restitution and then I look at the other group, violent or repeat offenders. Those are the people who you have to seriously look at either short-term or long-term incarceration in county jail or the prison system."
Boddicker said when it comes to the management of the office, he said if elected, he would take a close look at the changes implemented so far by Braden. He said one change would likely stick with would be for him to remain working in Keokuk.
He said he would support the addition of a victim services coordinator to the staff.
“It’s hard sometimes to coordinate the victim side of things, having somebody that helps get those people to court, having someone who can refer those people to services,” said Boddicker. “For example, there is the crime victim assistance program in Des Moines. Sometimes, they can reimburse people for medical expenses, for example, if we had someone who could coordinate those people and coordinate those cases for the entire county. I think that would be a tremendous benefit to the county so I would like to focus on that."
Boddicker said he would also like the county to consider elevating one of the two part-time attorneys to full-time status to help deal with the ever-growing case-load facing the department.
Braden and Boddicker are quick to point out that they are friends and that the transition of power has gone well. But some outside issues have muddied up the race.
Braden said he worked quickly to find new counsel for his clients following his appointment as county attorney. He said he’s working with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, the Henry and Des Moines County Attorneys’ offices and private attorneys, including Mike Short, to help handle cases in which he has a conflict of interest.
“When I left the world of criminal defense, obviously, I had some active criminal cases in which I was involved in, so I can’t turn around and prosecute the people that I represented in the cases that are currently pending,” said Braden. “That is clearly a conflict.”
Braden is quick to point out that the hiring of outside counsel is not affecting his budget, despite claims to the contrary on social media.
“I have not approached the Board of Supervisors for any more money nor do I intend to,” said Braden. “We have money set aside in the budget. We have the Lee County Attorney collections fund that the county attorney’s office is charged with enforcing.”
He said he only expects to receive hourly bills from the handful of private attorneys handling the county cases.
Another issue to come up has been a question about commitment to the office.
Boddicker has twice been a finalist for a district court judgeship. He was asked about it during his initial interview with the Lee County Board.
Boddicker said he is committed to serving as Lee County’s prosecutor.
“If a judgeship, for example, would come upon during the remainder of Mike Short’s term, if elected, I do not plan to apply for that,” said Boddicker. “I am making a commitment to the people of Lee County to finish that term and then to run for re-election.”
Boddicker said beyond that, he would have to weigh his options.
Perhaps the most significant issue surfaced this month, in the form of an anonymous letter to several local newspapers. The letter brought up the fact that Braden was arrested twice in college for OWI.
“I made mistakes when I was young,” said Braden. “It was dumb and I learned from it. I would not be the man I am today but for my history, the good and the bad, and I am proud of who I have become. I am blessed to be the Lee County Attorney and I hope to be able to continue to serve in that capacity after May 2.”
Boddicker said he received a phone call about the OWI arrests, but said he did not know a letter was being sent to the newspaper. Boddicker said he talked to Braden about the call the next day.
“I let Ross know this was a potential issue before it even came out in the newspaper because Ross and I have a great relationship,” said Boddicker. “We are friends and I didn’t want anything to come out that would make him think I was behind it.”
The American Association of University Women has scheduled a series to allow the candidates to introduce themselves and provide information about the qualifications and experience.
- April 19 – Fort Madison Public Library – 7:00-8:00
- April 26 – Keokuk Public Library – 7:00-8:00
- April 27 – Pilot Grove Savings Bank Community Room (Donnellson) – 7:00-8:00