OTTUMWA — A longtime fixture in the state’s legal landscape has died.
Judge Arthur McGiverin, 90, died Sunday at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City. McGiverin was a major figure in Iowa’s judiciary. He served as Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court for 13 years, from 1978-2000.
McGiverin began his legal career by graduating from the University of Iowa’s law school in 1956. He entered private practice, but would make his mark on the other side of the bench. McGiverin became a district court judge in 1965. He left that role in 1978, when he was appointed as associate justice to the Iowa Supreme Court.
Ottumwans knew another side of McGiverin. He was a member of St. Mary of the Visitation Catholic Church and served as a trustee of the library. His obituary asked for donations to those institutions in his memory.
Paul Zingg, an Ottumwa attorney, remembered McGiverin always kept an office in Ottumwa, even after reaching the peak of the state’s court system.
“It always struck me that here we had the highest judicial officer in the State of Iowa, and he kept his office in the Wapello County Courthouse,” Zingg said. “That really showed the judge he was.”
When Zingg spent six years in Washington, D.C., working for the federal courts, McGiverin was part of a federal committee studying the courts. It wasn’t unusual for McGiverin to call Zingg for lunch when he was in town on the committee’s business.
McGiverin was also an active member of the Civil War Round Table. And you could often find him out on the golf course. That’s where Gordon Aistrope got to know him.
“I didn’t get to know him very well until he left the bench,” Aistrope said. “After he left the bench we came to know him quite well.”
Weekly golf outings and basketball games at Indian Hills became part of the routine for Aistrope and McGiverin. Later, after McGiverin moved to Iowa City, Aistrope would go up to visit.
Zingg said McGiverin stressed the importance of getting to know people. When he was chief justice, the Iowa Supreme Court was still based in the state capital building. That meant legislators, their staffs and court personnel saw each other routinely, something McGiverin though was critical to having a good working relationship between the courts and the legislature.
“He told me once how important it was. They’d be eating breakfast and eating lunch together,” Zingg said.
Both Zingg and Aistrope kept coming back to McGiverin’s warmth and approachability. He was friendly in a way that generated respect.
“I just can’t say enough good things about him,” Aistrope said.