to the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Odell G. McGhee
II, District Associate Judge.
certiorari action, the State challenges an order converting
part of a jail-room-and-board reimbursement debt into a
community service obligation.
J. Miller, Attorney General, and Kevin Cmelik and Louis S.
Sloven, Assistant Attorneys General, for appellant.
Cortez Robinson Gochett, self-represented appellee.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.
State brought this certiorari action to contest the district
court's authority to convert fees charged by the sheriff
for room and board into a community service obligation where
Polk County did not pursue the claim as restitution under
Iowa Code section 356.7(2)(i) (2015). The State argues that
when a sheriff chooses to enforce the reimbursement claim by
execution under Iowa Code chapter 626, the district court
cannot "usurp" the county's right to collect
the entire payment.
State's argument cannot prevail on the facts before us.
The assistant county attorney characterized the fees approved
under section 356.7 as "court debt" as defined in
Iowa Code section 602.8017(1)(a). When a defendant is not
reasonably able to pay all or part of his or her court debt,
a judicial officer may substitute community service in lieu
of correctional fees. Iowa Ct. R. 26.4(2). Because that court
rule provided authorization for the district court's
action, we annul the writ.
Facts and Prior Proceedings
Gochett pleaded guilty to third-offense possession of
marijuana and eluding, receiving a seven-year prison sentence
in February 2015. He appealed the plea and sentence, alleging
he received ineffective assistance of counsel because he was
not informed about the applicable surcharges at the plea
hearing and his sentence was illegal because it included an
assessment of costs for dismissed charges. Our court affirmed
the judgment, preserved his ineffective-assistance claim for
postconviction relief, and remanded for resentencing with
respect to the assessment of costs on the dismissed charges.
See State v. Gochett, No. 15-0418, 2017 WL 1735606,
at *2 (Iowa Ct. App. May 3, 2017).
in late April 2015, the Polk County Sheriff's Office
sought reimbursement for Gochett's 120-day jail stay. At
$60 per day, plus a $75 administrative charge, the tab
totaled $7275.00. On May 1, 2015, the district court approved
the claim, finding the amount to be "fair and
reasonable." Seventeen days later, on May 18, the Polk
County Attorney sent a memorandum to the clerk of court
indicating it was "pursuing the collection of delinquent
obligations" in Gochett's case in accordance with
Iowa Code section 331.756(5).
was released from prison and placed on parole in November
2015. In October 2016, his parole officer instructed him to
set up a payment plan for his court debt, according to
Gochett's testimony at the hearing on the room-and-board
reimbursement. Rather than entering a payment plan, on
October 31, Gochett filed a handwritten motion asking to
"have a hearing to reduce room and board fees" in
his felony case. That same day, the district court filed an
order converting $3500 of Gochett's room-and-board fees
to 483 hours of community service. The order also set a
"contempt of court" hearing for December 22,
Polk County Attorney filed a resistance to Gochett's
motion to reduce the room-and-board fees and a motion to set
aside the court's order converting a portion of the fees
to community service. Before the December hearing, the county
attorney filed an exhibit list, including a printout of the
"Financials" screen from Iowa-Courts-On-Line,
showing "costs" due including $7275 for
reimbursement to the sheriff for room and board.
December 22, Gochett appeared for a "contempt
hearing" where the district court considered his motion
to modify the room-and-board fees and the State's motion
to set aside the order converting a portion of those fees to
community service. The court noted Gochett's
plea-and-sentencing appeal was still pending. The court set
his first payment on the plan of restitution for thirty days
after procedendo issued. The parties stipulated Gochett had
already completed fifty hours of community service. The court
directed the clerk to credit that community service toward
Gochett's outstanding court-reporter and filing fees. The
question concerning the room-and-board fees was set for
hearing on February 13, 2017.
February hearing, the assistant county attorney argued
"nothing in [section] 356.7 . . . allows the court to
convert the judgment to community service" because the
sheriff had not pursued the claim as restitution under Iowa
Code chapter 910. The assistant count attorney asserted
"court debt is under [section] 602.8107. . . . [I]f he
is not making the payments and he is in default, he is
delinquent, then it goes to collections under [section]
602.8107. So he's supposed to enter a payment plan with
the Clerk of Court."
who did not have counsel at the hearing, told the court:
"I know I owe the money . . . I know I got to pay it
somehow, whether it be community service, or whatever. But I
was trying to do whatever I could do to get it paid."
Under examination by the assistant county attorney, Gochett
testified he had been employed since February 2016, earning
$16.50 an hour and working ...