The Ottumwa Courier

April 3, 2012

Serving the people

Court Calls

Judge Annette J. Scieszinski

OTTUMWA — In March, the new Mahaska County Clerk of Court, Teresa Augustine, was officially sworn in by Chief Judge James Q. Blomgren. Teresa, a seasoned employee in the clerk’s office, was selected by 8-A district judges under terms of Iowa law. She succeeds her former boss, humbly.  

It was a milestone for the local court system when Mary Sexton retired at the turn of the new year after 35 years of service including 23 years as clerk for Mahaska County — one of southern Iowa’s busiest.

From her days as a rookie employee, through the term she served as president of the Iowa Clerks Association, through her last day in charge, Mary defined herself as a public servant. She mentored her staff that way, and she modeled that focus for all courthouse officials and colleagues around the state. Mary’s sense of duty and leadership inspired and all the judges and me.

We recognize the clerk’s office as the pulse point for the court’s house, the entry and the exit for so many: the people in trouble with the law, or those seeking redress for a wrong or those in the throes of life’s transitions. For statewide court administration, a county’s clerk acts as the site supervisor of a bustling business. Judges traveling a circuit of counties respect the host clerk as the tone-setter, and rely upon the clerk’s quality-control function in a never-ending flood of court cases.

For a stressed public seeking help at the courthouse, Mary dealt with a daily press of disputes, offering both empathy and efficiency. She ran a classy operation on a lean public budget. In recent years, when state funding shortfalls required layoffs despite an acute need for staff to meet demands of tough economic times, Mary rallied the survivors in her office for an uncertain future. The state mandated that all Iowa clerks lock the doors for several hours each week to afford a skeleton crew the chance to keep up with escalating work. The closures are painful because they require court customers to be turned away when they come to the courthouse for help. That budget-driven sacrifice upon the public also takes its toll on service-oriented officials like Mary.  

As a person and as an official, Mary leaves a legacy of excellence in the spirit with which she approached people and tended to their needs. As we resolve to go forward, we can be buoyed by the example of Mary Sexton — an official dedicated to helping people.  

Judge Scieszinski is one of six district court judges who serve Mahaska County and the other nine counties in Iowa Judicial District 8-A. She may be reached at