CEDAR RAPIDS — When Harold Denton retired as the Linn County attorney in 2010, after working 35 years in the office, some thought his other passion, golf, would replace his love of law.
However, it was only six months later before Denton came back to ask Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden if he could help out on Thursdays, when an additional prosecutor is needed.
“He only had one condition — he wanted nothing in return,” Vander Sanden said. “Or, as Harold joked, ‘I am finally getting paid what I’m worth.’ Which isn’t true. He has handled criminal pleas and sentencings every Thursday for the last seven years, and nobody knows criminal law better than Harold.”
Denton, 70, of Cedar Rapids, was honored last month with the Citizenship Award from the Linn County Bar Association’s Board of Governors for his volunteer service, which supports and promotes the bar association and provides a service to the community.
“I’m very honored to receive this award,” Denton said before the bar ceremony. “The response from the younger lawyers (at ceremony) will probably be who and why. They won’t know me.”
He noted that Nick Maybanks, the first assistant county attorney, was born the year Denton started working in the Linn County Attorney’s Office — 1975.
Denton, who grew up in Maryville, Tenn., came to Iowa in 1970 to attend the University of Iowa College of Law and decided to stay in the state.
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He worked continuously as an assistant Linn County attorney until he was elected Linn County attorney in 2002, replacing Denver Dillard, who became a district court judge. Denton was the county’s first full-time county attorney; his predecessors also had a private practice or worked for a law firm.
Denton was re-elected in 2006, serving as the county’s top prosecutor until he retired.
In 2011, Linn County supervisors approved Denton becoming a “special assistant” in the county attorney’s office. In these times of tight budgets, Denton said he’s happy to help out. He knows how the courts have been affected by budget cuts and by not having enough judges and court reporters.
Denton pointed out a number of judges in the 6th Judicial District — Linn, Johnson, Jones, Benton, Iowa and Tama counties — have taken senior status and work part-time to help out. The senior judges receive a stipend, but without them, there would be more delays in criminal and civil proceedings.
“We are fortunate to have experienced senior judges, and we just have a good legal community in Linn County, including the (courthouse) support staff and clerks who are helpful and professional,” Denton said.
Sixth Judicial District Senior Judge Nancy Baumgartner said Denton is “invaluable” to have on Thursdays for pleas and sentencings.
“He has this incredible knowledge and remembers everything,” Baumgartner said. “I know his time in court takes the burden off the county attorneys. And he is just fun to be around.”
Vander Sanden agreed, saying Denton is known for his historical knowledge of the district and of legal points. He also is a “talented storyteller, often regaling colorful accounts of legal significance to fortunate listeners.”
During his tenure as a prosecutor, Denton tried numerous high-profile case and always wanted to get justice for the victims, said Vander Sanden, who nominated him for the bar association award.
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In one case, involving first-degree kidnapping and sexual assault, Denton prosecuted a defendant three times, refusing to give up. The first two guilty verdicts were overturned on appeals, but the third conviction stuck.
Vander Sanden said Denton also was one of the first prosecutors to be recognized for excellence in the profession with the Staff Attorney Award of Merit by the Iowa County Attorneys Association.
Denton said he still enjoys the job because it’s interesting and still challenging, given that laws change rapidly. It pushes him to keep learning, he said.
“This is a great place to work,” Denton said. “I’ll stay for as long as they will have me.”
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