Weekend open thread: Milestones for women judges in Iowa

The Iowa Court of Appeals held a ceremony yesterday to mark Chief Judge Rosemary Sackett’s retirement after 28 years of service. Meanwhile, Senator Tom Harkin cleared the way this week for the first woman to be named U.S. District Court judge for Iowa’s southern district.

From the press release announcing the event to honor Sackett:

Chief Judge Sackett, Okoboji, is the longest serving judge in the history of the Iowa Court of Appeals. She was appointed to the court in 1983 by Governor [Terry] Branstad to fill the position created when the legislature increased the size of the court from five to six judges. She was appointed chief judge in 1999. Chief Judge Sackett was born in Fort Dodge and earned her bachelor’s degree from Buena Vista College. Graduating cum laude in 1960, she then went to Drake University Law School and earned her law degree in 1963. She received her L.L.M. from the University of Virginia in 1990. In 2006 she received an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree from Buena Vista University.  

Prior to joining the court, Chief Judge Sackett practiced law in Pocahontas and Spencer, Iowa for twenty years. She also served as an assistant County Attorney in Clay County. She is a member of the Iowa Judges Association and of the American, Iowa State, Judicial District 3A and Dickinson County Bar Associations and the Iowa Organization of Women Attorneys. She has served as chair of the Appellate Judges Conference of the American Bar, as president of the Council of Chief Judges of State Courts of Appeal, as chairman of the board of the Appellate Judges Institute, and as president of both the Judicial District 3A and Clay County Bar Associations. She has written and lectured on various legal topics and has served on a number of committees concerned with improving the law and for a number of years coached high school mock trial teams. In 2007 she spent several weeks in Bahrain working as an appellate specialist and advising their Ministry of Justice on ways to improve its appellate system.

Chief Judge Sackett will retire due to the mandatory retirement age of 72 for Iowa judges.

Although Sackett was elected chief judge by her colleagues in 1999, she became acting chief judge of the Court of Appeals in 1996, following the death of one senior colleague and the retirement of another.

In addition to writing more than 2,400 majority opinions for the Iowa Court of Appeals, Sackett served as “the first woman president of the Council of Chief Judges of State Courts of Appeal” and is a past chair of the Appellate Judges Conference of the American Bar Association.

The State Judicial Nominating Commission is accepting applications to replace Sackett through October 31. After that, commissioners have 60 days to send Branstad a short list of nominees for the position.

Also this week, Senator Tom Harkin recommended three Iowa women for a federal judgeship in the Southern District of Iowa. The position will become vacant when U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pratt retires next July. President Barack Obama will most likely choose a nominee from Harkin’s short list:

Karen A. Romano – a former Polk County prosecutor and current Polk County District Court trial judge

Stephanie M. Rose – current U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, who worked 12 years in the office as a prosecutor prior to her confirmation to the post

Mary E. Tabor – formerly served as the director of the Iowa Department of Justice’s Appeals Division, and was appointed to the Iowa Court of Appeals in 2010

Lynda Waddington noted at Iowa Independent, “no woman has ever served on the federal bench as District or Senior Judge in the Southern District of Iowa. There is one woman, Celeste F. Bremer, who serves as a Magistrate Judge.”

On a related note, five of the nine Iowa Court of Appeals judges have been women since Governor Chet Culver appointed Tabor in 2010. Culver’s choice put more female than male judges on that panel for the first time in Iowa history. Sackett’s departure brings the number of women on the Iowa appeals court down to four, depending on whom Branstad appoints to replace the retiring chief judge.

Branstad appointed both women who have served on the Iowa Supreme Court: Linda Neuman and Marsha Ternus. Early this year, the governor said he was disappointed that the Judicial Nominating Commission didn’t include more women on the list of nominees to replace Ternus and two colleagues who were not retained in the 2010 elections. The only woman on that short list of nine candidates was University of Iowa Professor Angela Onwuachi-Willig, whom Branstad would never have seriously considered appointing.

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers?

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