The Ottumwa Courier

Court Calls

May 11, 2013

We never really graduate

It’s May, and the graduation announcements are rolling in. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate the educational achievements of those who are graduating from various schools. It did not take me long, however, to realize that learning does not end with graduation. We never really graduate out of education mode because the learning process is lifelong.

Judges, as all lawyers, must receive at least 15 hours of continuing legal education each year. In Iowa that generally consists of formal classroom training with written materials, lectures, and interactive discussions. Course work differs based upon particularized professional demands. For example, most Iowa judges attend an intensive two-week “General Jurisdiction” course at the National Judicial College within their first two years on the bench (To my surprise, bells ring and attendance is taken for each class). Evolving needs also drive legal training. For instance, as we move toward a paperless court system, judges and lawyers alike are being schooled on such topics as E-Discovery.

Judges and lawyers must be daily learners, too, making their group classes just one part of ongoing legal education. The Legislature annually passes new laws and amends existing ones. The Iowa Supreme Court and Iowa Court of Appeals issue rulings regularly. In April alone, 136 appellate opinions were released, with most ranging from five to 25 pages in length; one was 117 pages long! It is important to keep up on all these developments in the law — the Legislature’s crafting of the law, as well as the appellate courts’ interpretation and application of that law. Obviously, we all do a lot of reading.

By the way, learning about how society’s disputes are resolved through interpretation and application of the law is something that interests everybody. Anyone may easily access Iowa’s appellate court rulings in these times of electronic empowerment. So, if you are curious and want to learn about the rulings of Iowa’s appellate courts, visit and click on “Supreme Court” or “Court of Appeals.” The “Most Recent Opinions” link takes you to the last batch of opinions issued. Much goes on in the Iowa court system, and there is a lot of reading there to orient you to some of the latest. I guarantee that you will learn something.

Judge Gookin is a trial judge serving the 10 counties of Iowa District 8-A. He graduated from Fairfield High School in 1976, Iowa State University in 1980 and the Drake Law School in 1983. He may be reached at

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