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U.S. Chief Judge Reade honored for leadership in past 10 years

Jurist steps down as top judge but remains on bench

Rebecca F. Miller photos/The Gazette U.S. District Court Chief Judge Linda Reade smiles during a Friday ceremony recognizing her 10 years as chief judge of the Northern District of Iowa. She will step down in February as the district’s chief judge, but will continue as a district court judge.

CEDAR RAPIDS — Judges and other court staff said U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade leads by example in running a “disciplined courtroom with quiet leadership.”

A Friday ceremony at the federal courthouse took note of Reade’s 10 years of service as the chief judge in Iowa’s Northern District — in charge of all the federal cases involving counties in the northern half of Iowa.

By statute, chief judges are to serve a maximum of seven years, but no one was available to replace Reade at that time, so she continued in the administrative role, U.S. District Judge Leonard Strand explained.

Strand, who was appointed to the court last year, will become the district’s chief judge next month. He said he knows the transition will be smooth because of Reade’s “steady and wise” leadership.

It’s rare, he said, “and might even be unheard of,” that a judge would serve as chief for 10 years, or 3,673 days,

Reade, 68, will remain a federal district court judge, but her colleagues wanted to celebrate her 10 years as chief judge.

They said she guided the district through many challenges, including high-profile cases, the 2008 flood, and the new federal courthouse design. As chief judge, she also handled changes in federal sentencing guidelines, reviewing nearly 2,000 cases and resentencing defendants.

Those showing up to honor Reade included district, bankruptcy and 8th Circuit Court of Appeals judges, plus U.S. attorneys, court and probation staff, law enforcement and lawyers. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a video message.

U.S. District Senior Judge Mark Bennett said it was no small feat to have the ceremony, given that Reade initially wouldn’t agree to even “a coffee.” She finally agreed to the ceremony, but only if it celebrated the district and not her, he said.

“So, I’m going to call her Linda to get around that,” Bennett said, smiling at Reade.

Bennett said he has been friends with Reade for 44 years. He met her in 1973 when he was attending Drake Law School and Reade hadn’t yet started there.

He said lawyers are always surprised that he and Reade are friends because they differ greatly on politics, ideology and sentencing.

But he said they’ve made tough decisions together, such as “picking out paint and carpet for the courthouse, which we agreed on.”

“She’s an exceptional leader ... the least duplicitous person I know,” Bennett said. “She tells you the truth whether you want to hear it or not, and she puts the interest of the district ahead of her own.”

Eighth Circuit Chief Judge William J. Riley said in a video message that Reade is highly respected across the district, “one of the best, and I know because I review and grade her papers, which are A-plus or no lower than an A minus.”

He said Reade is “tough but fair” and has dealt with many high-profile and complicated cases over the years. Her work, he said, is why she was appointed to represent the 8th District on the U.S. Judicial Council, which makes policy for the 8th Judicial Circuit.

In one of those high-profile cases, Reade was criticized nationally for the 27-year sentence she gave former Agriprocessor vice president, Sholom Rubashkin, after he was convicted of wire and mail fraud and money laundering. The sentence was longer than prosecutors recommended.

She also was scrutinized for her involvement in the preplanning of the immigration raid at the Postville meatpacking plant that led to Rubashkin’s charges.

But then she went below the recommended sentence in sentencing Bill Aossey to two years in prison last year for his role in a halal beef exporting scheme, a term that Aossey’s supporters still thought was too tough.

But on Friday, it was time to praise Reade’s leadership, which district court clerk Robert Phelps said is “not so much with words but by example.”

After the 2008 flood, he recalled going with Reade to look for a temporary courthouse location. They were at the C Street SW warehouse, and everyone was standing in the hallway after the tour, looking to him for an answer on whether that would be the court’s temporary location.

He didn’t know, but then Reade “caught my eye, and she was smiling,” so with that “unwavering” support, he said it would work. They stayed there for four years until the new federal courthouse was completed in 2012.

Lisa Feuerbach, deputy chief of the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services, said court staffers describe the district — since Reade didn’t want the day to be about her — as “busy, respected, adaptable, tireless, vigilant and dignified.” Those words also describe Reade, she said.

Grassley in his message said he was honored to recommend Reade as a district court judge in 2002 because she had the experience, background and temperament to serve on the federal bench.

“She runs her courtroom with integrity and humility,” Grassley added. “Thank you for your service.”

Reade seemed humbled by the “kind and generous remarks” but said the district’s success is due to its “high-quality” employees. There have been many challenges over the years, including the flood, which had them working out of trailers and warehouses and using “bingo” chairs as furniture. But the challenges, she said, only brought them closer together.

Reade said it has been her “high honor” to serve as chief judge, and she will continue to serve under “Chief Judge Strand.”

“You have made me a better judge,” she added.

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