Harkin recommends O'Brien, Romano, Klinefeldt for federal judgeships

Two federal judges in Iowa plan to retire next year, and U.S. Senator Tom Harkin has recommended that President Barack Obama choose among three possible replacements. Cedar Rapids-based attorney Dave O’Brien is Harkin’s choice to replace U.S. District Judge Mark W. Bennett, who presides in Sioux City. O’Brien finished fifth in the Democratic primary to represent Iowa’s first Congressional district. I’ve posted background on his legal credentials after the jump.

Harkin suggested two possible nominees for the position to be vacated by James Gritzner, chief district judge for Iowa’s Southern District: Polk County District Court Judge Karen Romano and Nick Klinefeldt, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District. A former prosecutor in Polk County, Romano became an Iowa District Associate judge in 1996 and a District Court judge in 2001. She has been on Harkin’s short list before, and I’ve posted more background on her after the jump.

I hope Obama chooses Romano to fill this vacancy, as she has much more relevant experience than Klinefeldt. On Harkin’s recommendation, Obama appointed Klinefeldt to be U.S. attorney in 2009. The Senate confirmed him to that position about four and a half years ago. His official bio is below as well.

Romano was in the news last November after her ruling put a temporary stay on the Iowa Board of Medicine’s rule banning the use of telemedicine to provide abortion drugs to Iowa women. Social conservatives including Bob Vander Plaats’ FAMiLY Leader organization threw a fit, but I have little doubt that the state board’s rule will not stand up in court when Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit is heard on the merits.

Ryan Foley of the Associated Press observed, “It is unusual for Iowa, a state that only has five active district judges, to have two pending vacancies for the lifetime judicial positions at the same time.”

From the Cedar Rapids Gazette story on Harkin recommending O’Brien:

“Federal judges are critical to ensure the rule of law, promote justice, and protect critical constitutional values, and I take my constitutional role of providing advice on this nomination very seriously,” Harkin said in a statement Friday. “I have carefully reviewed the records and qualifications of many outstanding judges and attorneys in Iowa, talked to many members of the Iowa bar and community, and have interviewed a number of candidates. After assessing the character, experiences, and expertise of these candidates, I am confident that Mr. O’Brien is the most qualified.” […]

O’Brien, who was born and raised in Sioux City, has been an attorney for more than 20 years and is a member of the Willey O’Brien law firm. He has vast experience with litigation and civil rights cases.

He graduated from George Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in public affairs and received his law degree from the University of Iowa. O’Brien was in private practice in Sioux City from 1984-93 and worked in various positions for the U.S. Department of Labor from 1994-98 before coming back home to Iowa.

Official bio of Romano on the Iowa courts website:

District Court Judge, Karen A. Romano: District 5C

Judge Romano, Johnston, was appointed as a District Court Judge in December 2001. She received her bachelor’s degree from Creighton University in 1983. In 1986, she graduated with honors from University of Iowa College of Law. Judge Romano served as a District Associate Judge from April 1996 until her appointment as a District Court Judge. She worked for a private law firm before serving as an Assistant Polk County Attorney from 1987 to 1996. Judge Romano is a member of the Polk County, Iowa State and American Bar Associations. She is also a member of Polk County Women Attorneys, Iowa Judges Association and National Association of Women Judges. She is married and has two children.

From the U.S. Department of Justice bio of Klinefeldt:

Prior to his appointment, Klinefeldt practiced civil and criminal law at the Des Moines law firm Ahlers & Cooney, P.C. and practiced complex criminal litigation in Boston, Massachusetts at the law firm LibbyHoopes, P.C. He clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Robert W. Pratt of the Southern District of Iowa and Chief Justice Christopher J. Armstrong and Justice Benjamin Kaplan of the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

Klinefeldt received his B.A. with honors and his J.D. with distinction from the University of Iowa.

Ryan Foley of the Associated Press added this background on the retiring judges:

A former civil rights attorney appointed by President Clinton in 1994, Bennett is known nationally as a critic of harsh sentencing policies for nonviolent drug offenders, his prolific writing on legal matters and his use of technology in the courtroom. He’s overseen hundreds of jury trials in his courtroom in Sioux City.

Gritzner, who is based in Des Moines, informed Obama in February that he plans to retire next March but go on senior status in which he will still hear some cases. Gritzner is chief judge for Iowa’s southern district. He was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002.

About the Author(s)