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Attorney hopefuls meet students

BY MEGAN SANCHEZ | MARCH 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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Instead of standing in front of a courtroom, two candidates for Johnson County county attorney presented their cases to a group of University of Iowa students in hopes to get their feedback.

Current County Attorney Janet Lyness announced Monday she will run for re-election.

She and her opponent in the Democratic primary, John Zimmerman, met with interested UI students Tuesday evening to describe their campaign platforms and answer questions about current issues in the county criminal-justice system. The “Justice for All” living-learning community hosted the event.

Lyness has lived in Iowa City for 37 years, and she is in her second term as county prosecutor.

During her time as county attorney, she has implemented various programs including the Johnson County Drug Court, the Rocket Docket — a payment program for those who have had their driver’s licenses suspended because of outstanding fines, and the Marijuana Diversion Program.

She said she plans to continue these programs if re-elected, in addition to petitioning for more funding for mental health care in the area.

“Because of mental-health funding being stopped at the national and state level, unfortunately, that money was not put into the local services which are really needed,” she said.

Lyness’ challenger hopes to focus more on reforming how law enforcement approaches minor charges.

Zimmerman, who completed law school in December, wants to focus on putting an end to the prosecution of public intoxications and marijuana for personal use, or as he calls them, “petty things.”

He noted statistics involving a racial divide when it comes to these charges. While nationally a white person is just as likely to use marijuana as someone who is African-American, an African-American is four times as likely to be convicted of it.

Zimmerman said he believes if more of minor charges do not get prosecuted, police officers will be less likely to make arrests for them at all.

“Prosecutors have overwhelming power, and it should be used in a balanced, thoughtful way,” he said.

Because Zimmerman has many disagreements with some of the tactics local law enforcement uses, he said he plans to approach them with a positive approach and restore their ultimate duties.

“I want to get police back to investigating and prosecuting serious crimes, because they want to protect people,” he said. “Most cops don’t like everyone being afraid of them. If I’m elected, I will improve the climate between the police and the people here, which will make a better environment for the cops, too.”

Dot Armstrong was the first eager student to arrive at the event. She stressed the importance of students getting involved in local politics.

“If we’re living under the authority of these local politicians, why not inform ourselves about them,” the UI freshman said. “If they’re representing us and making decisions for us, [we need] to get to know them and see what they’re all about.”


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