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Iowa Supreme Court Visits Keokuk; Chief Justice Promotes Transparency

Jerry Kearns - Keokuk
The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the "Field of Dreams" case. The hearing took place in Keokuk's Grand Theater.

The Iowa Supreme Court heard oral arguments for one case at the Grand Theater in Keokuk this week. The head of the court said it's part of a continued effort to show Iowa residents how the legal system operates.

The case, Residential and Agricultural Advisory Committee, et al. v. Dyersville City Council, et al., revolved around the “Field of Dreams” in Dyersville, Iowa. Neighbors are challenging the decision of the city council to rezone land around the baseball field and farmhouse from the movie for commercial development.

Chief Justice Mark Cady said hearing oral arguments in Keokuk is no different than when the justices hear cases in Des Moines.

“We try to follow the same approach that we do when we do our work in Des Moines,” said Cady.

“So everything people see is what they would see if they were in Des Moines, we are simply doing it in their high school auditorium or their high school gym or their community theater.”

Cady said the Iowa Supreme Court started hearing oral arguments outside Des Moines about five years ago. He said the goal is to visit two locations each spring and two locations each fall.

Credit Steve Davis / Iowa Judicial Branch
Iowa Judicial Branch

“We just try to jump from one part of the state to the other to make sure over time we will get everyone covered,” said Cady.

“I am very proud of the way we do our work. We do it in a very thoughtful way, we are very contemplative. We are addressing important issues that Iowa communities bring to us through our court system.”

It will be a few months before those in attendance at the Grand Theater in Keokuk learn how the justices ruled in the “Field of Dreams” case. The opinion will be released from Des Moines, as opposed to the justices returning to Keokuk.

Cady said the oral arguments occur at night during the road shows. He said the following day, the justices spread out and visit the local schools.

“We think it’s important for young Iowans, high school students, to have a better understanding of our court system and its important role in our state and our society,” said Cady.

“So within the 22 communities we have been in, the justices have been in 151 high schools, junior colleges, or colleges within the state of Iowa.”

Cady said this is just part of the transparency that he said is so important to the court. He said it is also about allowing cameras and microphones inside courtrooms for decades, allowing journalists to live-tweet during a trial or live-streaming its own proceedings.

“We will continue to find more new ways to ensure that what we are doing can be seen by all Iowans because justice is something that we should all be a part of and all feel,” said Cady.

“I think technology is going to offer us new avenues and I am hopeful that the younger lawyers entering the profession will help older lawyers and judges find new ways to ensure that we will continue to open up our court system for everyone.”

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.