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UI represented among Supreme Court hopefuls

BY KENDALL McCABE | JANUARY 19, 2011 7:10 AM

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The University of Iowa appears to be a breeding ground for applicants to the Iowa Supreme Court.
More than one-third of the 61 applicants for the three vacancies — created when voters ousted Justices Marsha Ternus, Michael Streit, and David Baker in November — graduated from the UI College of Law. And if only one of these 26 individuals is selected for the position, he or she would be the sole UI graduate on the Supreme Court.

Joel T.S. Greer, an applicant and partner at Cartwright, Druker, & Ryden in Marshalltown, said it is common for UI graduates to apply for the appellate courts. Greer received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the UI and also graduated from the UI College of Law.

“My first semester in law school, I cloistered myself in a one-bedroom apartment and had all of two dates. It was miserable,” he wrote in an e-mail. “By the third year of law school, I really enjoyed intramural sports and working in a law firm. My grades went up as I loosened up.”

He attributed the high percentage of UI graduates in the applicant pool to the UI being one of the state’s two law schools. The other is at Drake University — which graduated the second most Supreme Court applicants.

“It would be logical for a group of Iowa attorneys to have a sizable UI contingent,” said applicant Joseph M. Barron, a UI graduate and attorney with Peddicord, Wharton, Spencer, Hook, Barron, & Wegman in Des Moines. He said the most valuable skill he acquired at the UI was his ability to write.

The lack of UI graduates on the current court is slightly abnormal, said Tim Hagle, a UI associate professor of political science who specializes in judicial politics and behavior, but it doesn’t mean much considering the court has only four justices at present.

“It’s odd that it just happens to be that way,” Hagle said. “It’s more coincidence than anything else.”

The nominating commission will begin to interview the applicants — a mix of current judges, law professors, and attorneys — on Jan. 24 in Des Moines. That process is expected to take numerous days.

Then the commission will send Gov. Terry Branstad the names of nine finalists. He will have 30 days to appoint the three new justices.

Hagle said the high percentage of UI applicants “is not surprising.”

The 15-person nominating commission will look for candidates who are knowledgeable about Iowa law, are members of the Iowa Bar, and are open-minded, Hagle said. A strong precedent also exists for candidates to have previous judicial experience, he said.

The remaining justices are coping with the expansive caseload, with only four justices available to write opinions rather than the normal seven.

According to its online schedule, the Supreme Court will not issue any decisions in the month of January. For the past five years, the court issued at least three decisions each January.

The court’s next ruling will come Feb. 3.


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