116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - The two newest 6th Judicial District judges didn't have aspirations to take the bench until others encouraged them. Then they began to see it as their way to provide more public service.
AN EVEN TEMPERAMENT
Judge Lars Anderson, who was appointed last year, said he hadn't considered becoming a judge and enjoyed being a lawyer. He ended up going to law school after getting his undergraduate degree in political science and history at Luther College.
'I guess I like to argue, or my parents would say that,” said Anderson, 44, of rural Iowa City.
Anderson, who started on the bench in August, said the variety of cases judges encounter is appealing to him. He also enjoys learning new things and says one of his strengths is an even temperament.
BRUNS' PATH TO BENCH
Judge Christopher Bruns, who was appointed last month, said he always wanted to be a trial lawyer.
He received his undergraduate degree in political science and history at Drake University, but he knew when he was a third-grader that he was going to law school. He remembers telling his teacher and then breaking it to his parents.
Bruns said they were concerned because they didn't have a lot of money, and they told him he would have to figure out a way to pay for it. He did. He got the opportunity to go to Drake Law School on a scholarship.
As his legal career progressed, some people close to him said he should apply to be a judge. After talking to some lawyers and retired judges, he did.
'I guess I worried, Would I be able to measure up?” said Bruns, 49, of Cedar Rapids. 'But I liked the challenges of it and being busy and the variety. I just kind of fell in love with the notion.”
Anderson and Bruns said they like the public service aspect of being a judge. Both feel it's important to treat those in their courtrooms with respect and dignity.
'Lars Anderson was an excellent attorney with broad experience in both civil and criminal law, the sort of general practice background that is the best preparation for service as a district court judge,” Judge Douglas Russell said. 'He also served as a civil commitment/mental health referee for a number of years, which is a position requiring judicial skills.”
Russell said Anderson also has common sense and a good sense of humor.
Judge Mitchell Turner said Bruns has hit the ground running and has been an 'effective addition to the bench.”
'He's so courteous and thoughtful and has such great energy, it's a pleasure to work with him,” Turner said.
The two judges were nominated twice by the 6th Judicial District Nominating Commission for recent vacancies after Judges Marsha Beckelman and Nancy Baumgartner retired. The 13 commissioners interview the candidates and make recommendations to Gov. Terry Branstad.
Bruns and Anderson both said the concern over a decrease in applicants in the last few years also influenced their decisions to apply. They said it is important to have people willing to serve.
CHAD KEPROS APPOINTED
Chief Judge Patrick Grady said this district has been fortunate to be able to send good candidates to the governor.
The last vacancy, when Judge Stephen Jackson Jr. left to join the federal bench, had 17 applicants, which was an increase over the last few years. The previous applicant pools averaged around 10 to 12. Chad Kepros, an Iowa City attorney, has been appointed to fill that vacancy, but he hasn't taken the bench yet.
'People (in other districts) were surprised by how many this district had,” Grady said. 'Polk County usually only has a dozen, and that's a large area. I think the judges are being more proactive in recruiting lawyers to apply. The lack of applicants still seems to be about salary concerns, lack of individual schedule - they can't take off early for kids' soccer games. There are sacrifices that go along with it. I think some are intimidated by being a generalist (as a judge), since so many lawyers are specialized these days.”
Grady said there also is concern about lack of staff support. They remember the harsh cuts the courts went through in 2010 and after. 'Unfortunately, we're always one legislature away from losing people.”
When Russell retires this spring, the district has been told that position will have to remain vacant, Grady said. He doesn't know when it can be filled. In the meantime, the district will rely on senior judges to fill in. Russell will take senior status.