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Home / 1977: ‘Middle of the Road’ on Most Issues: Eads
Editor's Note: The following story originally appeared in a Sept. 24, 1977 edition of The Gazette.
He once thought he would like to be a U.S. senator, but 14 years ago William Eads was appointed a Sixth District judge by then Gov. Harold Hughes. Though Hughes was six years his senior, the two families were Ida Grove friends.
Judge Eads, who has the longest tenure on the District Court bench, has given up political aspirations. Neither does he yearn for higher judicial office.
“In the trial court, it's my errors and my decisions. On the Supreme Court it is a collective decision. And you are pretty anonymous on the Supreme Court. If you stopped the first 50 people on Armstrong's corner, could any of them name people on the Supreme Court?”
But being on the bench, toeing the mark as dictated by both public expectation and judicial canon, appears to be restrictive sometimes for Eads.
“Yes. It affects one's lifestyle,” said Eads. “You have to conduct yourself within a certain image. I'll occasionally stop in a neighborhood bar, but you couldn't do it frequently.
“Then you can't let your temper get away from you like you might. You've got to listen to some of the most stupid statements, like you're hearing the wisdom of the ages. If a judge doesn't keep his head, who does in a trial?”
Eads was one of the most candid of judges interviewed for this series. He was open in his responses, and certainly far less cautious than most.
Eads said most people tell him he doesn't look like a judge. “I guess they expect someone with white hair.” Eads' hair is blondish mod.
What other restrictions does the bench impose? “You can't participate in politics,” and, said Eads, if a judge is on an agency board he is somewhat reluctant to join in any vigorous discussion of issues.
Eads said he refrains from saying what's on his mind when others are debating a topic. “Sometimes you would kind of like to blow your stack. I like to argue politics with friends. I'm restrained in that.
“Sometimes people look at a judge like he's inanimate. They say the court does this. What's the court's view? It's framed that way, and it has to be I guess. The courts have to have certain aloofness. We are enforcing orders people don't want enforced. We can't have a general shouting match. There has to be a distance to give people confidence in the court – that there is a calm judgment.”
He likes it
Judge Eads, restrictions notwithstanding, likes being a judge. However, he said, some of the work, though important, is not interesting. He included default divorces and probate orders.
“Of course, litigation is not meant for the entertainment of a judge,” Eads said. He quoted the late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said he handled 1,000 cases – many trifling.
Eads said there aren't too many cases “that bring out the best in a judge. Many have no legal issues to research – like divorce and custody. They are important involving the future of a child and his parents, but these cases normally don't have any great legal issues.
“The kind of case I like is where ((HJKHSDGASDFGH)) give a sample of your best.” Eads then mentioned the suit over the movie “Deep Throat” that came before him, adding he prefers cases touching upon social issues of the day. (In that case, Eads enjoined the Marion Theater from showing the movie but later was reversed by the Iowa Supreme Court.)
It “irritates” Eads when the Supreme Court talks about the “lower” court. “We're the trial court, and in many cases we are the Supreme Court in the sense that most cases are not appealed. So it is important.”
While he takes all cases seriously, Judge Eads said he doesn't wring his hands over matters. “I know it would be fashionable to say I lie awake nights over somebody I have to send to prison, only it isn't true.”
He said he receives few complaints. “I think if people are treated politely in court, and have their say, and I don't write my opinions by castigating someone…”
“Not a bully”
Eads said a good judge is “not a judicial bully.” He said a judge must listen to both sides, and then render a fair decision. “The court must be run with dignity. I'm a stickler on court formality.” He said he believes people want that.
Judge Eads regards himself as a “rather strict constructionist” on the bench. “Statutes say what they mean, or should say what they mean, and we should not expand greatly on them. The legislature should do the expansion.”
He sees himself as “middle of the road” on most issues. As an example, he said he supports public assistance for those in need, but not the idea of public dole.
“For instance,” he asked. “Is one pro-labor or anti-labor? Well if there's a legal strike, it's legal; if it's illegal, it's illegal. Like I held the (city) garbage strike illegal.” It depends upon the law, he emphasized, not what the result might be.
“If we started ignoring statutes, or bend them out of shape, then we in fact become the legislature. We're not elected. I've never felt judges were the repository of all wisdom.”
Judge Eads said there must be more uniformity in sentencing. For the same crime, one defendant in one part of the state goes to jail while another somewhere else is placed on probation. What is the solution?
“That's a good question. I suppose the Supreme Court could hand down sentencing guidelines, but then we almost become ottomans, sort of constitutional monarchs who reign but do not rule.
“Every case does have different factors.” He said two first-offenders could get different sentences because one has a bad attitude. “Maybe the offense in one case was more aggravated.
“For instance, in armed robbery cases I don't recall of ever giving probation, other than to an accessory to the crime. I don't send someone to jail on bad checks the first time.”
Are judges, as some charge, going easy on criminals today?
“There always has been probation,” he said. “There was lots of probation given 20 years ago. It's nothing new. I think people's rights are better protected now. Some say they want you to be tough on crime, on certain types of crime.
“They want you to be hard on the burglar and the armed robber, but not as hard on a prior fiver. Some want you to be tough on criminals, but not overly tough on drunken driving.
“Take marijuana. They wanted to be tough on people until it got so widespread it was getting into the upper class homes. Then the views started to change.”
Eads said it is difficult for a judge to have an overall philosophy. “I sometimes think the courts are just to keep the peace, to keep people from ripping each other apart. Perhaps we shouldn't have any overall philosophy.”
Like others on the bench, Eads supports the present system of selecting court members. He is the only Sixth District judge who was not selected under the new Iowa appointive-retention system.
“I was a product of the old system. The new law hadn't gone into effect yet. I was a political appointment. That's not necessarily bad. I had two advantages – being a Democrat and knowing the governor. But I had a strong bar support, too.”
Eads agrees with his colleagues on the bench that judges should not be subject to partisan politics or have opposing candidates. “Judges should be immune from pressures.
“What if you had an opponent going around saying, ‘When I become judge there will be no dirty movies shown'? Even though he may not have the authority, if he still defeats the other person, well…
“Courts can't be popularity contests. (Judges) should not be subject to the general transitory whims of the public.” Eads said it should be difficult to get rid of judges.
“If you don't like his opinions, that shouldn't be any grounds for voting against him. The only legitimate grounds are that he is incompetent professionally, lazy, not getting his work done, or conduct disgraceful on the bench – or his public or private life…”
Eads does not think Sixth District judges are overworked. “They keep very busy.” Do judges contribute to delays? “I can only speak for myself. At times I procrastinate, yes. I don't want to imply that's habitual.”
Eads puts in an average of 40 hours per week. He said while it is human nature to want to make more, that the $40,000 salary district court judges now receive is “fair.”
Eads said he owns no real estate other than his home. He receives a monthly veteran's pension of $67 and owns a “trifling amount” of stock – in Holiday Inn and Scott Paper. He said his wife has assets gained through inheritance.
While Eads no longer has aspirations to run for higher office, he is still running. He is a faithful jogger, and runs in the senior races and Olympics masters race. His reading preferences run heavily toward books on politics and government.