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Judge Robert Dull of Le Mars retiring after 25 years on the bench

LE MARS, Iowa -- As a young man, Robert Dull desired a career in the Army judiciary.

But when told pursuing that goal would require spending a year in Korea separated from his wife and three young children, Dull readjusted his sights.

He'd shoot for being a judge in Iowa instead.

"I always wanted to be a judge," Dull said. "I thought the United States judiciary was one of the most honorable jobs you could have."

Since 1993, he's been honored to be the first district associate judge to serve Plymouth and Sioux counties. That 25-year career officially ends Dec. 31, though his last day on the bench was three weeks ago.

With the mandatory retirement age of 72 approaching in March, Dull said it was time to step away from a job in which he had to preside over a growing number of juvenile court cases involving parental rights termination actions.

"Juvenile court is expanding. There's just a lot more cases," the Le Mars native said.

It's not a complaint from a judge who loved his time on the bench and a career in law, the only career he seriously ever considered.

"When I was in college, I thought about being a history teacher," Dull said.

But Dull chose to follow the lead of his father, Burton, a longtime lawyer in Le Mars. Never pressured by his father to go into law, Dull said he was influenced by watching his work and the example he set.

"He was one of the best men I ever knew," said Dull, whose brother Michael also was a lawyer.

A Gehlen Catholic High School graduate, Dull attended Yale on an ROTC scholarship and in 1969 was commissioned in the Army infantry. He attended law school at Drake University while stationed in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and graduated in 1973. Dull served in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, or JAG Corps, and was a legal instructor with dreams of being an Army judge. But the aforementioned requirement that in order to do so, he'd have to serve halfway around the world without having his family with him changed his mind, and he resigned his commission.

Dull was discharged in 1976 and returned home to join the family law firm with his father, brother and Pat Murphy. In the 1980s, Dull became the Plymouth County Attorney, a position he held for eight years before he was appointed to the bench after two previously unsuccessful applications to be a judge.

No job comes without change, and the judicial system has seen its share. Dull said budget cuts over the years reduced the number of court staffers in his office. And with electronic filing enabling lawyers to file court documents from their offices rather than making a trip to the courthouse to do so, Dull had fewer opportunities to chat with lawyers who stopped by while filing papers.

"It's a lonelier job than it used to be," Dull said. "I miss the attorneys, and I miss the people."

That in-person contact is important, he said, which is why he continued to show up in person at the Plymouth County Jail to conduct initial appearances, even after the jail moved to the edge of Le Mars and the technology to conduct the hearings via video conference was installed.

"I believe they should see a judge in person," Dull said. "An initial appearance should be an appearance. That's the way it was when I started, and I was going to keep it that way to the end."

Dull will not be taking senior status, so his retirement is the end of his judicial career, a concept he's still getting used to. No longer on call 24 hours a day to sign search warrants or other emergency orders, Dull said it's still sinking in that he no longer must find someone to cover for him if he wants to go to a movie or leave town for an afternoon.

A minor inconvenience of a job that he always wanted and continually enjoyed.

"It's been fun," he said. "I've never had any bad thoughts. I probably made a few bad decisions. I got reversed a couple times, but I'm happy with what I've done. It's been a good ride."

Submitted Genelli Studio/ Rob Ownby 

UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's has donated to the Journal's Goodfellows charity. Shown in this submitted photo are: seated from left, Dr. Robert Stewart, Wendy Lindley, Lynn Wold, Susan Unger, Jim Gobell; and standing, from left, Dr. Mike Kafka, Jane Arnold, Chad Markham, Matt Johnson, Dr. Jeff O'Tool, Leah Glasgo and Mike Stiles.

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Judge rules Winnebago tribal tobacco case in Nebraska can proceed



OMAHA -- A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request by Nebraska officials to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Winnebago tribal entities challenging the state's attempts to regulate tribal tobacco sales.

Chief U.S. District Judge John Gerrard said that more evidence will be needed to settle issues raised in the case, and his ruling clears the way for the lawsuit to proceed, though he dismissed one of the tribal claims against Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson and Tony Fulton, the state's tax commissioner.

"The court anticipates that a full evidentiary record will be required before it may undertake a complete resolution of the parties' claims and contentions pursuant to the Indian Commerce Clause. Accordingly, the court finds that the plaintiffs have alleged a plausible factual basis to give rise to a claim pursuant to the Indian Commerce Clause," Gerrard said in his 19-page ruling.

Gerrard referred the case back to a magistrate judge to preside over the case's progression.

The ruling was welcomed by tribal attorneys.

"The state's illegal regulation threatens the ability of the Winnebago Tribe and tribes across Indian Country to provide for themselves. The state of Nebraska will be forced to defend its deal with Big Tobacco," Nicole Ducheneaux, an attorney representing HCI Distribution and Rock River Manufacturing said Wednesday in a news release. HCI and Rock River are both subsidiaries of Ho-Chunk Inc., the Winnebago Tribe's economic development corporation. 

Peterson and Fulton had argued in their motion to dismiss that the federal court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case and that tribal attorneys had failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

Gerrard said that during a Dec. 10 hearing, tribal attorneys sufficiently showed that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. However, he dismissed the lawsuit's equal protection claim, saying the lawsuit is the opposite of that type of claim. Rather than asking the government to treat them like other companies, the tribal companies' claim had been seeking an increased level of treatment different from other similar companies.

HCI and Rock River sued Peterson and Fulton in April, saying that the state's efforts to regulate the Winnebago Tribe's production of tobacco products on its reservation are unconstitutional and an attack on the tribe's sovereignty. The cigarette makers argued that tribal commercial activities are protected by federal law, and Nebraska has no regulatory authority over the tribe's cigarette operations that take place on tribal land.

In addition to creating jobs at the cigarette plant, the tribe collects its own tobacco taxes that fund health, education and infrastructure programs. Ho-Chunk said on Wednesday that the state's attempts to regulate on-reservation business has led to 2018 revenue losses of more than 80 percent for HCI and Rock River. The state's actions also have "effectively ended the distribution of third-party Native tobacco brands to other sovereign tribal nations and hampered outside sales of tobacco products manufactured on the Winnebago Indian Reservation."

Federal agents in January raided four sites owned by Ho-Chunk in Winnebago and seized records related to the tribe's tobacco operations, which have been under both state and federal scrutiny.

In March 2014, the Nebraska Department of Revenue issued tax assessments against several reservation-based cigarette retailers, claiming they made sales subject to state cigarette tax laws. That action led to compact negotiations to settle a dispute over whether Nebraska laws apply to HCI Distribution and Rock River's manufacture, sale and distribution of cigarettes. Negotiations on the compact broke down in 2016.