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Harlan woman is new chief justice

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rotary christensen1 19-10-15

Iowa Supreme Court Justice Susan Christensen meets with Manning residents Oct. 15 during a meeting of the local Iowa Rotary Club.

A long-time lawyer and judge from Harlan who was appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court in 2018 has been named its new chief justice.

Susan Christensen, 57, succeeds Chief Justice Mark Cady, who died of a heart attack in November.

She is the daughter of a former Supreme Court justice and inadvertently launched her legal career as a law firm secretary in the 1980s. She initially had not intended to become a lawyer but later earned a law degree from Creighton University School of Law in Omaha, Nebraska.

Christensen was an attorney in Harlan for about 16 years before she was appointed a district associate judge in 2007.

She was known as the “cookie judge” for her years in juvenile court, when she baked cookies for children who had birthdays near their court hearings.

“As chief justice, I will maintain my passion for child welfare and juvenile justice and do my best to lead Iowa’s judiciary in a manner which provides all 99 counties with fair and impartial justice,” Christensen said of her new appointment that was announced Monday.

As chief justice she will preside over the court’s oral arguments, which is when attorneys are asked to publicly argue their cases and are questioned by the justices. She also will deliver the annual state of the judiciary address to state lawmakers in January and will help manage the financial and operational workings of the court system.

Justice David Wiggins has been acting chief justice since Cady died Nov. 15 but announced in January that he plans to retire March 13. He is 69.

Christensen was selected as chief justice by her fellow justices.

“I am deeply appreciative of the immediate leadership by acting Chief Justice David Wiggins,” Christensen said. “He provided the stability to push forward with the court’s work while the judicial branch and entire state grieved for the Cady family.”

The State Judicial Nominating Commission interviewed 12 candidates in January to replace Cady on the high court, including Carroll native Matthew McDermott. The commission selected McDermott as one of its three finalists, but Gov. Kim Reynolds chose a Cedar Rapids attorney, Dana Oxley.

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