DES MOINES — Recently retired Iowa Supreme Court Justice Daryl Hecht, who was receiving cancer treatment, died early Wednesday, the Iowa judicial branch announced.
Hecht, 66, of Sloan, is remembered by other justices, former colleagues and friends as a “kind, thoughtful jurist with a passion for the law and an unwavering commitment to the rule of law.”
The former associate justice served from 2006 until he resigned from the court in December 2018 while undergoing treatment for melanoma in Sioux City and at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
After discussions with his family, he determined it was necessary to commit all of his energy to battling the disease, according to a news release.
“I always looked forward to spending time with Daryl when we both would travel to Des Moines for oral arguments and meetings,” said Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady. “He was an enthusiastic student of the law and a strong advocate for his position when we discussed cases. He was also a great friend, and we spent many hours talking about our families and events in our lives. I will miss him, greatly.”
Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel, executive director of One Iowa, said he and colleagues “are saddened” to hear of Hecht’s passing, the same day the organization was celebrating the 10th anniversary of the “one of his most impactful decisions” — Varnum v. Brien — which legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa on April 3, 2009.
“Hecht’s legacy of protecting the rights of Iowans lives on, and we in the LGBTQ community are particularly grateful for his service on the Iowa Supreme Court,” Hoffman-Zinnel said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”
David Baker, a Cedar Rapids lawyer and former court justice, said Hecht “was one of the nicest men I’ve ever known. He was thoughtful, intelligent and cared deeply about the court system.”
Baker, who served on the court from 2008 to 2010, has known Hecht since the early 1980s.
Tim Semelroth, a Cedar Rapids lawyer, said what he will remember the most about Hecht is his compassion.
“When he was a lawyer, Justice Hecht was known for the true compassion he showed his clients,” Semelroth said. “When he became a judge, he quickly became known for the compassion he showed to the parties and the lawyers who appeared before him. The Iowa legal system is a more compassionate place because of Justice Hecht’s leadership and example.”
Sixth Judicial District Judge Sean McPartland agreed, saying his death is a “huge loss” to judiciary, and he was “honored” to serve under his leadership on the steering committee of the Task Force For Civil Justice Reform in 2009.
“He was masterful at initiating and facilitating discussion of the task force and at steering the steering committee,” McPartland said. “I will remember him most, however, as a smart, kind and patient man who was passionate about the law and about improving the judicial branch.”
Pressley Henningsen, one of Semelroth’s law partners, said both he and Semelroth are past presidents of the Iowa Association for Justice, as was Hecht, and he was known as a “gentleman, very kind to all and extremely knowledgeable. He is a rare breed.”
Hecht, who grew up on a family farm near Lytton, received his bachelor’s degree from Morningside College in 1974 and his law degree from the University of South Dakota in 1977. He then received his Master of Laws degree from the University of Virginia Law School in 2004.
He practiced law in Sioux City for 22 years before his appointment to the Iowa Court of Appeals in 1999, going on to the Iowa Supreme Court in 2006.
Hecht served as a member of the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Home and Family Services, the Morningside College Alumni Association, the Woodbury County Judicial Magistrate Nominating Commission, and the Woodbury County Compensation Commission.
He also served as chair for the Iowa Civil Justice Reform Task Force and was involved in the study of civil justice reform at the national level. He served as a member of the Civil Justice Improvement Committee appointed by the Conference of Chief Justices.
Hecht is survived by his wife, two daughters, and three grandchildren.
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