U.S. District Court
Southern District of Iowa
The federal judicial system is comprised of the Supreme Court, eleven U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals and 94 District Courts. The jurisdiction of each federal Circuit Court of Appeals is comprised of several states. The Southern District of Iowa is included in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, along with the Northern District of Iowa, the District of Minnesota, the District of Nebraska, the District of North Dakota, the District of South Dakota, the Eastern District of Missouri, the Western District of Missouri, the Eastern District of Arkansas, and the Western District of Arkansas. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals is based at the Thomas F. Eagleton Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri.
The Southern District of Iowa serves 47 of Iowa’s 99 counties. They are: Adair, Adams, Appanoose, Audubon, Boone, Cass, Clarke, Clinton, Dallas, Davis, Decatur, Des Moines, Fremont, Greene, Guthrie, Harrison, Henry, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Keokuk, Lee, Louisa, Lucas, Madison, Mahaska, Marion, Marshall, Mills, Monroe, Montgomery, Muscatine, Page, Polk, Pottawattamie, Poweshiek, Ringgold, Scott, Shelby, Story, Taylor, Union, Van Buren, Wapello, Warren, Washington, Wayne. The Southern District of Iowa holds court in Davenport, Des Moines, and Council Bluffs. The Northern District of Iowa, based in Cedar Rapids and Sioux City, serves the remaining counties of Iowa.
The Southern District of Iowa utilizes both district court judges and magistrate judges. District court judges are appointed by the President of the United States, confirmed by the Senate and serve a lifetime term. Presidents typically select private or public sector attorneys, magistrate judges, bankruptcy judges, judges from state courts or law professors to fill these positions. District court judges can be removed from their position only through impeachment and conviction by Congress. District court judges are authorized to hear all federal civil and criminal cases. Judges in appellate courts, including the United States Supreme Court, hear federal cases in which the original ruling has been appealed. This district has four district court judges, including, Chief District Judge Stephanie M. Rose, District Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger, District Judge Stephen H. Locher, and Senior District Judge James E. Gritzner.
The Magistrate Judge position was established in 1968 through the Federal Magistrates Act. Magistrate judges are appointed to 8 year terms by the district court judges in their district and may be reappointed to serve additional terms. Magistrate judges may preside over plea hearings, evidentiary hearings, initial appearances, pretrial conferences, probation/supervised release hearings, Social Security appeals, arraignments, and criminal misdemeanor cases and certain civil cases. The Southern District of Iowa currently has three magistrate judges: Chief Magistrate Judge Helen C. Adams, Magistrate Judge Stephen B. Jackson Jr., and Magistrate Judge William P. Kelly.
Each district court has a Clerk’s Office which handles the administrative operations of the court. The Clerk’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa (Central Division) is located at 123 East Walnut, Des Moines, Iowa, 50309. The duties of the Clerk’s Office include maintaining the records and dockets of the court, administering the jury system, providing interpreters and court reporters, preparing budgetary and spending plans, sending official court notices and summons, providing human resources services, creating and maintaining the court’s Information Technology (IT) systems, and transmitting to the U.S. Treasury all fees and fines collected.
Clerk of Court
The Clerk of Court is a non-judicial officer appointed by the district court that manages the administrative operations of the court. The Clerk’s duties include, but are not limited to, processing documents, recruiting and managing staff, managing the summoning of jurors, records management, and managing the human resource, IT, budgeting, and financial needs of the court.
Court reporters are responsible for transcribing all court proceedings into written form. Court reporters use machine shorthand or voice writing equipment to create and file transcripts of depositions, trials, and other court proceedings, when requested.
Courtroom deputies work with judges to help manage court proceedings and caseloads. Their duties include serving as courtroom managers, attending and recording courtroom proceedings, responding to public inquiries concerning court proceedings, scheduling court reporters and interpreters, and a variety of administrative duties that include maintaining deadlines, processing orders, and filing documents.
Office operations include intake, docketing, quality assurance, responding to public inquiries, and record-keeping. Deputy clerks are responsible for entering or reviewing all pleadings in the court’s docket. Records clerks store and maintain the official records of the court, which ensures the responsible management and proper functioning of the court.
The finance department of the Clerk’s Office ensures the financial accountability of the court. The court’s budget allotment is established by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts in Washington, D.C. The financial administrator is responsible for the budget, cash receipts, cash disbursements, and criminal debt. Cash receipts include filing fees and restitution. Cash disbursements mainly go towards salaries and supplies. Criminal debt refers to the distribution of fine and restitution payments to victims. The financial administrator ensures that all funds are accounted for and properly distributed.
Human Resources (HR) handles employee recruitment and management. HR deals with benefits, payroll, training, personnel actions, and performance management for all court employees. HR also organizes Constitution Day, where court personnel teach local high school students about the federal courts and other community outreach efforts such group tours and educational programs.
Procurement, Space and Facilities
The Procurement and Facilities Specialist has the authority to make purchases for the court. The Procurement Specialist purchases materials, enters contracts for vehicles, interpreters, and court reporters, and manages maintenance agreements for copiers and scanners. Space responsibilities include managing courthouse room usage and parking assignments. Facilities responsibilities include working with GSA to manage construction projects and coordinating courthouse security procedures with the Marshals Service.
The jury specialist manages the summoning of both petit and grand juries. The jury pool is a combined list of registered voters, licensed drivers, and non-driver identification card holders received from the state. For petit jurors (trials), summonses are sent out each month to a pool of names. When a trial occurs, the jury specialist calls up the required number of jurors. Summonses for grand jurors are sent out once a year. Grand jurors are on call for a year to 18 months and typically meet once per month. Grand jurors hear testimony and determine whether probable cause exists to charge a person with a criminal violation of federal law. The jury specialist is also responsible for stocking the jury room with beverages and snacks, handling parking, and preparing juror payment vouchers.
Naturalization ceremonies confer U.S. citizenship on immigrants who have completed the requirements necessary to become citizens of this country. The Des Moines Courthouse conducts a naturalization ceremony every month, while the Davenport Courthouse conducts quarterly naturalization ceremonies. A district or magistrate judge presides over this ceremony which is typically held in the ceremonial courtroom. Occasionally, naturalization ceremonies are conducted at other locations such as at minor league baseball games or at the state capitol. Approximately 65 people are naturalized at each ceremony.
Information Technology Department
The IT department is tasked with maintaining all the computers, networks and technology for the courthouse. The IT staff ensures that judges, attorneys, and other court employees are properly equipped and that equipment is in working order. The IT department is currently in the process of upgrading the courtrooms, installing cutting-edge video equipment, and training courtroom officers in its use.
The Southern District of Iowa has one and a half staff attorney positions. These attorneys act as law clerks for the district court judges and focus on pro se cases filed by prisoners. The most common cases are 2254 petitions from prisoners in state custody, 2255 petitions from prisoners in federal custody, and 1983 petitions, which often arise from alleged mistreatment by police or prison officials. Because most complaints come from prisoners who typically have no legal experience, the staff attorneys apply more case management to these cases than in regular civil cases. Staff attorneys set deadlines for these cases and substantively review cases with in forma pauperis status (for indigent petitioners).
Probation and Pretrial Services
The Probation and Pretrial Services System is the community corrections arm of the federal judiciary. Probation officers supervise persons charged with or convicted of federal crimes. Their duties include gathering information on people who come before the courts, preparing reports used for sentencing, and supervising persons released from prison as they transition back into the community.
Bankruptcy allows individuals and businesses who can no longer pay their creditors to get a fresh start through liquidation, reorganization, and repayment plans. Bankruptcy cases can only be heard in federal courts. The Southern District of Iowa has two bankruptcy judges, Chief Bankruptcy Judge Lee M. Jackwig and Bankruptcy Judge Anita L. Shodeen. The most common types of bankruptcy filings are Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7 bankruptcy can be filed by both individuals and businesses and consists mainly of debt forgiveness, Chapter 11 is for the reorganization of businesses, and Chapter 13 is for individuals and consists of debt restructuring under court supervision. In 2012, there were a total of 3,893 bankruptcy filings in this district.
U.S. Attorney’s Office
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa is an executive branch office and is part of the United States Department of Justice. It represents the federal government in both criminal and civil cases. All U.S. Attorneys are appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate. The acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa is Richard D. Westphal.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has two divisions, the Criminal Division and the Civil Division. The Criminal Division is tasked with enforcing federal criminal laws in this district. The Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs) in the Criminal Division investigate and prosecute violations pertaining to terrorism and national security, fraud and corruption, narcotics trafficking and violent crime, computer crimes, child exploitation, human trafficking, environmental and wildlife crimes, immigration crimes, program fraud, and civil rights. The Criminal Division also has an Asset Recovery Team, which supports the prosecution of forfeiture cases (seizing property related to criminal activity) and enforces criminal and civil debts owed to the government. It also handles criminal appeals before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals
The Civil Division represents the United States in civil cases. The division performs both defensive and affirmative litigation. Defensive litigation includes tort cases against the United States, which include claims against employees of the federal government, discrimination cases brought by employees of the United States, and appeals of the denial of Social Security disability claims. Affirmative litigation consists of bringing actions under the False Claims Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Housing Act, and various other civil rights acts, environmental statutes, and safety laws.
Federal Public Defender
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the assistance of counsel to all persons charged in criminal matters with a penalty in excess of one year. If a person is charged with a federal crime and they cannot afford an attorney, the Federal Public Defender’s Office is appointed to defend them. The Federal Public Defender is appointed to a four year term by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The number of assistant federal defenders is determined by the circuit court. The current Federal Public Defender, for both the Northern and Southern Districts of Iowa, is Brad Hansen.
U.S. Marshals Service
Established in 1789, the U.S. Marshal’s Service is the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency. The primary purpose of the U.S. Marshals Service is to act as the enforcement arm of the federal courts. Each judicial district has a U.S. Marshal appointed by the president, as well as a number of deputy U.S. Marshals. The current U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Iowa is Ted Kamatchus.