From our archive: An interview with Justice Daryl Hecht, who died April 3

By: Rox Laird on April 4th, 2019

Three years ago Rox Laird, a contributor to this blog, sat down with Iowa Supreme Justice Daryl Hecht for a rare on-the-record interview ahead of that year’s judicial retention election.

Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that could affect future wind power regulation

By: Rox Laird on April 1st, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Forest City April 2 in a case that raises for the first time a question about how Iowa law regulating approval of electric generating facilities applies to wind energy projects.

The argument, which is open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Boman Fine Arts Center in Forest City.

The Court will hear arguments in two cases, both of which involve Palo Alto County residents’ challenge to a plan by Palo Alto Wind Energy and MidAmerican Energy to build a 170-turbine wind farm spread over 100 square miles. Bertha Mathis and Stephen Mathis appealed decisions by the Palo Alto County District Court dismissing the plaintiffs’ lawsuits, one against the Iowa Utilities Board and a second against the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors.

Judges must know offenders’ ability to pay before ordering restitution, Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on March 26th, 2019

Sentencing courts must know how much a convicted offender is reasonably able to pay before ordering payment of restitution to the State, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in three separate cases March 22.

In all three cases, the sentencing courts ordered offenders to pay restitution without first determining their ability to pay, which violates Iowa’s restitution statute, the Court held in a 6-0 decision. Justice Christopher McDonald, who will be officially sworn in on April 5, did not participate in the decision.

In the lead opinion, State v. Charles Raymond Albright, written by Justice David Wiggins, the Court dismissed Albright’s appeal of his kidnapping conviction and sentence but upheld his claim regarding restitution payment ordered by the sentencing court.

A second urine test needed for OWI conviction, Iowa Supreme Court rules

By: Rox Laird on March 13th, 2019

An initial urine test by itself, without follow-up confirmation, was insufficient evidence for convicting a driver of operating while under the influence of a controlled substance, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled March 8 (State of Iowa v. Jeffrey John Myers).

Myers appealed his conviction in Floyd County District Court for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance. Myers argued the trial judge should have suppressed the State’s evidence of “possible presence” of a controlled substance in his urine because the initial urine test was not sufficient without being confirmed by a follow-up test.

On further review of an Iowa Court of Appeals’ ruling upholding the lower court, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment and sentence and remanded the case to the District Court for dismissal of the charge.

Iowa Supreme Court says insurance liability must be shared in a tragic shooting death

By: Rox Laird on March 12th, 2019

A couple of teenage boys are out for some dirt-bike and ATV riding at rural retreat when one of the boys is fatally injured in a tragic shooting accident. The farmhouse on the retreat where the shooting occurred is insured by a homeowners’ policy and by a separate commercial general liability policy.

Is the issuer of the commercial policy on the hook for a share of a $900,000 settlement paid to the victim’s family?

Yes, says the Iowa Supreme Court, in Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Co. v. Auto-Owners Mutual Insurance Co., handed down March 8.

The Iowa Supreme Court grapples with alleged jury confusion with instructions in a comparative fault case, but declines to order a new trial

By: Rox Laird on March 6th, 2019

Jurors in a Pottawattamie County medical malpractice trial submitted a question to the court during jury deliberations about the meaning of instructions given to them by the trial judge for apportioning fault to a settled party, but the judge did not commit a prejudicial error by failing to clarify his instructions, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled unanimously March 1.

The appellant, a 33-year-old resident of a halfway house following her release from prison, sued the halfway house and an emergency room doctor for failing to immediately diagnose her symptoms of a stroke, resulting in her partial paralysis.

The woman settled with the halfway house prior to the malpractice trial, which was then narrowed to the question of the emergency room doctor’s liability. Based on Iowa’s comparative fault statute, the judge in the verdict form asked the jurors to decide if there was any fault by either the doctor or the halfway house and, if so, what percentage to allocate to either one.

Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in eight cases March 5 and 6

By: Rox Laird on March 1st, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court entered the home stretch of its 2018-19 term March 1, with four months remaining before the administrative term begins in July.

The Court has disposed of 38 of the 90 cases submitted thus far this term. The Court has scheduled five more days to hear arguments in March and April.

The Court will hear arguments in eight cases March 5 and 6, and two cases will be submitted without oral argument. Following are summaries of those cases.

Following are summaries of the March oral arguments. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read the briefs filed with the Court in these cases.

State v. Baker

Scheduled for oral argument March 5, 9 a.m.

Justin Andre Baker seeks further review of a decision by the Iowa Court of Appeals affirming his conviction and sentences by the Black Hawk County District Court for possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. Baker argues the police seizure of his vehicle was not supported by articulable reasonable suspicion and challenges the legality of a search warrant based on evidence from that seizure. The Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s denial of Baker’s motion to suppress in an opinion written by Chief Judge Gayle Nelson Vogel and joined by Judge Patrick Carr. Judge Mary Tabor dissented, saying the lower court should have granted Baker’s suppression motion.

Christopher McDonald elevated to the Iowa Supreme Court by Governor Reynolds

By: Rox Laird on February 21st, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court will have a full complement of seven justices when Christopher McDonald is sworn in. McDonald, 44, was appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds this week, replacing Justice Daryl Hecht, who retired last year as he battles melanoma.

Reynolds’ second appointee, after naming Susan Christensen last August, brings to the Court the perspective of a Vietnamese-American, a practicing lawyer, and a trial and appellate judge.

McDonald has served on the Iowa Court of Appeals since 2013. He is a graduate of Grand View University and the University of Iowa Law School. He clerked for Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Hansen, and practiced law at the Des Moines law firms of Faegre Baker Daniels and Belin McCormick. He was senior counsel for litigation at Aviva before being appointed to the Fifth Judicial District Court by former Gov. Terry Branstad.

Iowa Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments in five cases Feb. 12 and 13

By: Rox Laird on February 11th, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in five cases Feb. 12 and 13, and four other cases will be submitted to the Court without oral argument. Go to On Brief’s Cases in the Pipeline page to read the briefs in these cases.

Ames 2304 v. City of Ames, Zoning Board of Adjustment

Scheduled for oral argument Feb. 12, 9 a.m.

The City of Ames and the Ames Zoning Board of Adjustment seek further review of a decision by the Iowa Court of Appeals reversing and remanding a Story County District Court ruling upholding a decision of the Zoning Board of Adjustment denying Ames 2304’s application for a permit for an interior remodeling that would convert a 4-unit apartment building with four bedrooms into four units with a total of seven bedrooms. The zoning board held that increasing the number of bedrooms in the nonconforming apartment building would violate the City’s zoning ordinance by increasing its “intensity.” The Court of Appeals reversed the District Court, holding that the only definition of the term “intensity” in the zoning ordinance is in a section that refers only to commercial and industrial property, not residential.

[Disclosure: Nyemaster Goode attorney Debra Hulett is the attorney for Ames 2304 in this case.]

Iowa Supreme Court will hear arguments in a police-shooting case in an evening session Feb. 5

By: Rox Laird on February 4th, 2019

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear oral argument Feb. 5 in an interlocutory appeal in a civil suit brought by a Cedar Rapids man who was shot by a Cedar Rapids police officer during a 2016 traffic stop, which left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Oral argument in Mitchell v. City of Cedar Rapids, will be held in an evening session beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Supreme Court Chambers at the Judicial Branch Building as part of the Court’s effort to make oral arguments accessible to the general public. The argument also will be livestreamed on the Judicial Branch website (

Plaintiff-appellee Jerime Mitchell sued the City of Cedar Rapids and Police Officer Lucas Jones claiming, among other things, negligence and assault and battery. The city and Jones sought an order from the court protecting certain documents produced during discovery – including “peace officers’ investigative reports” – from public disclosure.

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.