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This month marks 40th anniversary of the Iowa Court of Appeals

Iowa Supreme Court

DES MOINES – Forty years ago this month, the newly formed Iowa Court of Appeals heard oral arguments and issued opinions for the first time. The Iowa Legislature created the five-member court to ease the overcrowded Iowa Supreme Court docket. At the time, it was taking about two years for the supreme court to process appeals.

In September, 1976, then Iowa Governor, Robert D. Ray, appointed the first five judges to the court: Robert G. Allbee and Leo E. Oxberger, district judges in Des Moines; Allen (Barney) L. Donielson, U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Iowa; James H. Carter, a district judge in Cedar Rapids; and Bruce M. Snell, Jr., an attorney from Ida Grove. Judges Allbee, Carter, and Snell went on to serve on the Iowa Supreme Court.

The current Iowa Court of Appeals judges are, Chief Judge David Danilson, Pleasant Hill; and judges Gayle Nelson Vogel, Spirit Lake; Anuradha Vaitheswaran, Des Moines; Amanda Potterfield, Tiffin; Richard H. Doyle, Des Moines; Mary Tabor, Des Moines; Michael R. Mullins, Washington; Thomas N. Bower, Cedar Falls; and Christopher McDonald, Des Moines.

The court of appeals first heard oral arguments January 17, 1977. Then, on January 28, 1977, the court filed its first set of opinions. In 1983, the Iowa Legislature expanded the court of appeals to six members. At that time, the court began to hear and decide cases in three-judge panels but continued to conference all cases as a group, or en banc. In 1999, the court was again expanded to its current structure of nine judges meeting in panels of three. The conferencing of all cases en banc was discontinued except in limited circumstances.

Several more court of appeals judges moved on to the supreme court including the current Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice, Mark Cady, and current justices Daryl Hecht and Edward Mansfield. Other court of appeals judges appointed to the supreme court were Michael Streit and David Baker. In total, 29 judges have served on the court of appeals. The longest serving judge was former Chief Judge Rosemary Sackett who served for 28 years. A complete list of court of appeals judges is on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at

The legislature designed the court of appeals to review all civil and criminal actions, postconviction remedy proceedings, and small claims actions transferred to it by the supreme court. In its first year the court of appeals filed 327 opinions. The number of cases transferred to the court of appeals has steadily increased and, in 2016, the court filed 1,390 opinions, the largest number in its forty-year history. On average each judge authored over 140 opinions. A decision of the court of appeals is final unless the supreme court grants further review.

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