Nick Maybanks, who was appointed Linn County Attorney last month, is running for a full term in that office in the November general election.
“Part of my drive and motivation to serve is not only that I’m a hometown guy here and I care about the future and safety of the citizens of Linn County, but I also happen to be raising my two daughters here, so I want make sure this stays a safe and thriving community,” he told Little Village.
Maybanks grew up on the west side of Cedar Rapids, and has worked in the Linn County Attorney’s Office since graduating from Drake University Law School in 2000. He served as first assistant county attorney for almost 12 years, before being appointed by the Linn County Board of Supervisors to fill the remaining months left in the term of Jerry Vander Sanden, who retired at the end of last year.
Vander Sanden had served as county attorney since July 2010, when he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of his predecessor, who retired before the end of his last term. He was elected to a full term in November 2010, and ran unopposed for reelection in 2014 and 2018.
When he first took office in 2010, Vander Sanden appointed Maybanks as his first assistant.
Maybanks handled many of the highest-profile criminal cases in Linn County, including the 2020 trial that resulted in the conviction of Jerry Burns for the 1979 murder of Michelle Martinko.
Asked what he considers a major achievement of his time in the county attorney’s office beyond prosecuting violent criminal cases, Maybanks pointed to the diversion program for marijuana possession arrests the office launched in January 2021.
In 2020, a report from the ACLU documenting racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession ranked Iowa among the states with the worst racial imbalance. Nationwide, a Black person is 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than a white person, and in Iowa, that rose to 7.26 times more likely.
The disparity was even higher in Linn County than the statewide average, with Black people being 9.65 more likely to be arrested. Only four counties in the state – Pottawattimie, Dubuque, Scott and Cerro Gordo – had greater racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession.
The diversion program allows arrested individuals to have the charge dismissed after successfully finishing a six-month program during which they complete any recommended treatment after a mandated substance abuse evaluation, as well as performing 10 hours of community service and not being arrested for new violations or missing court dates.
The program is only available to those arrested for their first marijuana possession, and criminal justice reform advocates were concerned when the program was announced at the end of December 2020 that it would reinforce racial disparities by excluding people with previous arrests. Maybanks, who took the lead in creating the program, said that hasn’t happened.
Data for the first year of the program hasn’t been published yet, but Maybanks told Little Village, “Thus far 58.7 percent of [those] enrolled in the program are white, 40 percent have been Black. So, we are receiving people in our program at a higher rate than the racial disparity in our community.”
Of the 114 people who entered the six-month-long program, 25 percent have completed it, according to Maybanks.
“I consider that actually to be a pretty strong indication of the success of the program,” he said. “But we’ve also seen where we can improve it as well.”
Maybanks said he wants to expand the program “to include potentially more than just first-offenders, other drug offenders and potentially offenders with low-level financial crimes, as well.”
Protests following the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police in May 2020 may the problem of racial injustice in policing and the rest of the legal system. Maybanks said he takes those concerns seriously.
“I’ve already sat down and met with members of Advocates for Social Justice and related organizations that are concerned about social justice issues in the criminal justice system,” he said. “I’ve committed to having continued conversations with them. Those meetings will continue on a regular basis, so I can hear from folks who are attuned to these issues, what they’re seeing in our community.”
“If those conversations create opportunities for us to adjust our policies, we’re open to that. But also, I’d say even more significantly for the cause of social justice, for the last 21 years I’m proud that I’ve formed strong relationships of trust with our local law enforcement. I believe that just as I listen to them, they also listen to me, and that we work together well. And having somebody in the position of chief law enforcement officer, as county attorney, who has a strong relationship with law enforcement and an open line of communication with social justice advocates is going to produce nothing but good results for our community.”
Maybanks is running for office as a Democrat, but said he doesn’t consider county attorney to be a political position, and anyone in that office should divorce it from politics.
“I have an immense interest in ensuring public safety, but I’m also going to make sure that our office looks out for the people we prosecute as well, [so they] receive just results,” he said when asked about his approach to the office. “I think that’s the goal of any prosecutor, to make sure no matter what justice is achieved.”
There are currently no other candidates for Linn County Attorney.