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Jane Spande retires after 31 years on the bench

'Tiny feet, but big shoes to fill'

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Sixth Judicial Associate District Judge Jane Spande, the second full-time female judge to serve in the district, retired Friday after 31 years on the bench.

Her colleagues say they will miss her institutional memory and her judicial knowledge, as well as her sense of humor.

Spande, 66, will take senior judge status — meaning she will hear cases part-time — but her fellow judges say it won’t be the same without Spande’s energy and guidance being just down the hall every day.

Associate District Judge Angie Wilson said Spande, because of her time on the bench, has such “vast institutional knowledge, and she is the one who everybody goes to for everything, especially those little quirky (legal issues).”

And Spande’s emails are like no others, Wilson said, laughing.

“She thinks faster than she types, so her emails are single spaced without punctuation, which aren’t easy to read,” Wilson said.

“I’m really, really sorry to see her go, even if she will take senior status,” Associate District Judge Casey Jones said. “She’s extremely knowledgeable. She was really helpful to me when I first started.”

Jones pointed out that Spande isn’t happy unless she is busy.

Sheila Jellison, Spande’s court reporter for 22 years, agreed.

“She is always looking for work and insisting on trying to do more than her share,” Jellison said. “She has tiny feet, but those are big shoes to fill.”

Harold Denton, a former Linn County Attorney who is now retired, said he remembers law enforcement officers always referring to Spande as the “little fun one” when she was a part-time Linn County prosecutor from 1977 to 1985.

“She tried some really big cases,” Denton said. “Some really major homicide and just horrible cases. Just to give you an idea how (her career) went — her first case, I think, was dogs running at large, and her last case was a man who killed police officer Bret Sunner.”

Sunner, a 25-year-old Cedar Rapids officer, was fatally shot June 8, 1984, while he was responding to a domestic abuse call. Leonard Berg, 55, shot the young officer with a shotgun.

“Berg fired at the car door of the squad car and, I remember, there was little Spande dragging the car door in the courtroom during the trial,” Denton said.

Berg was found guilty and sent to the Fort Madison prison, where he died in January 2015, at age 76.

District Senior Judge Nancy Baumgartner said she was lucky to have had Spande “as a colleague, mentor and teacher. I’m proud to call her my friend.”

Chief Judge Patrick Grady described his colleague as “a very hard worker who really cares about the people who are affected by her rulings. I think she was a real inspiration to many of the women lawyers and judges.”

Spande, who lives in Cedar Rapids, was appointed to the bench as a district associate judge in 1985. She earned her undergraduate degree from Mankato State College, now Mankato State University, in 1972 and her law degree from the University of Iowa College of Law in 1977.

She was in private practice from 1979 to 1985 in addition to being a part-time prosecutor.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Nic Scott was appointed in late August to replace her on the bench.

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