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SIOUX CITY | Had it not been for a college professor who encouraged her to consider law school, Julie Schumacher might have been the one writing this story rather than being the subject of it.

While studying English and communications at the University of South Dakota in the late 1980s, Schumacher had far different goals than someday becoming an Iowa district court judge.

"I wanted to be a reporter," she said.

She was majoring in English and communications. She wrote for the Volante, the USD student newspaper.

But at the urging of an English professor, she checked out the Creighton University School of Law and, after visiting with students and graduates, decided to pursue a  law career instead.

Schumacher was appointed a district court judge in Iowa's 3rd Judicial District, which covers 16 Northwest Iowa counties, in January, fulfilling a longtime goal. She doesn't regret putting away the reporter's notebook and forgoing a journalism career.

"There are aspects of it I think would be very intriguing, but I'm happy with my career choice," said the Orange City, Iowa, native and Spalding Catholic High School graduate, who now lives in Crawford County.

Rather than taking photos and writing news stories, Schumacher has spent her career first trying cases, and now presiding over them. That writing background, however, has proven beneficial, given the importance of clear communication when relaying information, whether it be in a court motion or a ruling.

"I still do a lot of writing as a judge," she said. "I've never regretted having this writing background."

After her 1993 graduation from Creighton, Schumacher spent 20 years in private practice in Denison, Iowa, during which time she also served 19 years as an assistant city attorney for Denison and four years as an assistant Crawford County Attorney.

While working a variety of criminal and civil cases, Schumacher gained the attention of judges in the district. The late Richard Vipond, who retired as the 3rd District's chief judge, was the first to suggest to Schumacher that she had what it took to be a good judge.

So in 2010, she applied for a district judge opening. One of two finalists, Schumacher was not chosen, but she wasn't discouraged.

"From having such good judge mentors, I know you don't just get it the first time," she said.

In 2012, Schumacher applied for an associate judge opening and was appointed and sworn in in February 2013. Presiding over misdemeanor criminal cases, juvenile court, small claims and civil cases, she figured, would give her judicial experience. Schumacher loved the work, but kept her eyes on the district judge openings.

"It was definitely a goal for me to advance to district court," Schumacher said.

She was the runner-up again for a district judge opening in 2014, then applied a third time last year after District Judge Mary Jane Sokolovske retired. Again a finalist, Schumacher interviewed with Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds in December.

On Jan. 6, Schumacher was sitting in Judge Vipond's former chambers in Denison when she received the call from Branstad informing her that he'd chosen her for the judicial opening.

"I was happy to hear it," Schumacher said. "I felt like I'd worked really hard to get to that point."

Schumacher must wait just a little longer to step up to the district bench. With a statewide hiring freeze in the judicial branch currently in place, she'll continue to work as an associate judge until her position can be filled. It means spending up to four days a week in Woodbury County Juvenile Court, a task Schumacher is fine with.

"No matter what I do in my judicial career, I'll always consider the work I do in this courtroom as the most important," she said while seated inside a Woodbury County juvenile courtroom in which she not only hears delinquency cases, but also makes decisions that help children who have been abused or face other difficult circumstances.

It may be a few months before Schumacher finally assumes the district court bench seat that she's spent six years pursuing, but it will be worth it.

"I'm very much looking forward to it," she said. "It's a position I've always wanted."


Court reporter

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