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In Memoriam

Justice Jerry L. Larson

Justice Larson, served on the Iowa Supreme Court from 1978 until his retirement in 2008. He was the longest-serving member of the bench in Iowa Court history.

Justice Larson was born and raised in Harlan.  He received his bachelor's in 1958 and law degree in 1960, both from the University of Iowa.  While at law school, he was an editor of the Iowa Law Review. 

Following his graduation from law school, he was a law clerk for U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge M.D. Van Oosterhout.  Later, Justice Larson practiced law in Harlan with his father and served two terms as Shelby County Attorney.  In 1975, he was appointed to a district court judge. He served on the district bench until his appointment to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1978.

Supreme Court Mourns the Passing of Former Justice

August 17, 2017 interview with former Justice Jerry L. Larson

Transcript from the May 9, 2008 retirement ceremony of Justice Larson


Statements from the Supreme Court Regarding the Death of Justice Jerry L. Larson

The Iowa court family is saddened by the passing of former Justice Jerry Larson. Jerry had 20 years of experience as a justice when I joined the court in 1998, and I had the great pleasure of serving with him for 10 years while he was on the bench and another six while he served as a senior judge. We had followed similar paths to the supreme court—first as county attorneys, then as district judges in rural counties—so we connected right away. He became a great mentor to me and a better friend with a keen legal mind, a quick wit, and a deep love of the law. Our sympathies go out to his entire family.

Chief Justice Mark Cady

I had the honor to serve on the supreme court with Jerry Larson for my first five years on the bench. It is still amazing to consider that during his long and distinguished career, I was one of 21 justices with whom he served. We all benefited from our time with Jerry. As a judge, I appreciated his direct approach to discussing the law and writing opinions. As a friend, I appreciated his warm demeanor and subtle wit. Jerry was passionate about the law and in constant pursuit of justice. He believed in equal treatment for everyone and was a strong protector of a person’s constitutional rights. I think a lot of his personality had to do with his hometown. The members of the court were always happy to see Jerry when he came to Des Moines for conferences and oral arguments, but I think he was most comfortable reading briefs, reviewing cases, and writing his opinions in his beloved Harlan, in his chambers in the Shelby County Courthouse.

Justice David Wiggins

As a colleague, Jerry was a wonderful person with whom to work. When presented with an opposing view, his first instinct was to listen and not rebut. In performing his judicial duties, Jerry was perfectly happy to make others look good and did not seek the limelight, which he regarded with mild distain. And, although he held a high position in government, he did not believe that vested him with any special right or privilege. He taught us how to be a judge by quiet example. On a personal level, Jerry was a proud supporter of his Harlan community. He was an optimist with a strong belief in the value of public education to the students, the community at large, and to democracy itself. Most of all, he loved watching his children and grandchildren grow and develop their own caring approach to life. While we mourn his death, we celebrate his life.

Justice Brent Appel

Justice Jerry Larson leaves a wonderful legacy of published opinions and his example of exemplary service to the people of Iowa.  I am grateful to have served with him when he chaired the State Judicial Nominating Commission, and to have practiced before the court during his decades on the bench.  He combined a brilliant intellect with "Iowa nice" and a humility fitting for all judges to emulate.  The apple does not fall far from the tree, and his son and daughter serving on the bench continue the wonderful Larson tradition. In 2016, they hosted a reunion in their father's honor in Harlan joined by nearly all thirty of his law clerks by video and most in person from all over the country, giving all a chance to share stories of how Justice Larson influenced their lives. His example will guide my continuing service on our Iowa Supreme Court.

Justice Thomas Waterman

Justice Larson belongs to an era when opinions were short and every word mattered.  Although I am a great admirer of his work, I admire his character even more.  I had a chance to interview with him in his Shelby County chambers when I applied (unsuccessfully) to be a court of appeals judge back in 2001.  This was my first real conversation with him.  He reminded me greatly of the federal judge I had clerked for back in the early 1980s.  I felt I was talking to someone who lived and breathed justice.  Yet unlike most judges, Justice Larson made you feel at ease.  When I joined the supreme court many years later and Justice Larson was a senior justice, I had the tremendous pleasure of working with him.  We disagreed on only one significant matter that I can remember.  After he expressed his views, I had doubts whether I was right - and still do.

Justice Edward Mansfield

I had been appointed to the court in 1972, and we went for 6 years with no vacancies.  Jerry was appointed by Governor Ray to fill a vacancy in 1978 shortly after Art McGiverin and Bob Allbee had been appointed to fill vacancies.  He was a terrific colleague on the court.  I do not recall that he ever raised his voice, but he presented strong arguments during discussion of cases. His opinions were well written.  He had a clean, clear writing style.  He contributed to the work of the court and had a special interest in cases involving the First Amendment.  He chaired the court’s project to permit cameras in the courtroom.  He set the record for tenure on the supreme court and left a body of work and memories that we cherish.  He was a good friend that I will miss.

Mark McCormick, Justice (Ret.) Iowa Supreme Court (1972-1986)

Jerry Larson and I served together on the Iowa Supreme Court for several years (1983 to 1987).  Before that he had been an Editor of the Iowa Law Review and greatly helped me with a Comment that was published in 1967.  Justice Larson was a true gentleman and scholar, the longest serving Iowa Justice and an excellent writer and analyst of challenging issues.  He is sorely missed by ALL. 

Senior United States District Judge Charles Wolle,
former justice of the Iowa Supreme Court (1983-1987)

Justice Jerry Larson was a great justice of the Court and a good personal friend.  He was appointed to the Court in August 1978, 10 days after I was.   We had a joint inauguration ceremony in the courtroom in September 1978.  We also sat next to each other at the supreme court conference table for several years.  We shared many evening meals after work during court submission weeks. So, we knew each other quite well. He had a very good legal mind and a subtle sense of humor. He served for many years on the court. He had a great love for his extensive family. I am very sorry about his passing. I express my prayers and thoughts to his family for their loss.

Arthur A. Mc Giverin, Chief Justice (Ret.) Iowa Supreme Court (1978-2000)

When I think of Justice Jerry Larson, I think of great stories, clear thinking, crisp and persuasive writing, an easy laugh, a warm and open heart, and his unbridled love for his family. In 1986, Justice Larson was one of the first members of the court to call me after the governor announced my appointment to the court. He asked, “Do you know where you’ll be sitting?” I thought he meant on the bench. His question puzzled me because I knew I’d be on the end someplace where the newest member is always seated. So I was surprised when he said, “You’ll be sitting next to me.” Little did I know that the justices’ seats around the court’s conference table were also pre-assigned, not by seniority, but by historical tradition, the newest judge taking the seat of the departed or retired one. So I was privileged to sit next to Justice Larson at the court’s conference table for every case discussion and every administrative committee meeting for seventeen years. That’s a lot of hours of decision-making while seated next to the same person. But from those many hours, I learned not only about the law but about living generously.  Justice Larson’s keen sense of fairness, humility and common sense enriched the discussions at our conference table and strengthened our opinions.  He held firm convictions about the law but always delivered those views respectfully.  He could add kindness and good humor to the toughest debates of the day.  And so while I am saddened by the news of his passing, I am filled with gratitude for his role as my mentor, friend and colleague on the bench.

Linda Neuman, Justice (Ret.) Iowa Supreme Court (1986-2003)

I was saddened to hear of Jerry’s passing.  I cherish the 20 years I served with him on the Court.  Anyone worthy of the title judge, I believe, must have three important traits.  Those include respect, compassion, and empathy for all those with whom the judge may have contact.  Jerry embodied all three.  He was also humble, never forgetting where he came from.  I will miss him.

Louis A. Lavorato, Chief Justice (Ret.), Iowa Supreme Court (1986-2006)

I thoroughly enjoyed my friendship with Justice Larson during the 11 years I was on the Court of Appeals, while he was on the Supreme Court, and when we served together on the Supreme Court.  I sat on the chair next to him at our conference table for 14 years.  He was a superb colleague to be with in every respect.  At conference day, he was a strong advocate without being disagreeable.  He made decision-making among judges an enjoyable task free of any rancor or reward.  Jerry was a man of firm conviction who wrote sound and well-reasoned opinions.  His writing style presented a clear picture of the legal issue and social problem submitted and why the court reached its decision.  His opinions avoided complex thoughts that can lead to misunderstanding and later litigation.  Jerry treated his colleagues, every staff member and all other people, with the utmost respect.  He loved people and his interaction with them; of special notice, his children and many grandchildren.  Justice Larson has served the longest number of years of any member of the Supreme Court.  We have all benefited greatly from his commitment to the judiciary and the people of Iowa.  It has been my good fortune to have been his colleague and friend these many years.

Bruce M. Snell Jr., Justice (Ret.) Iowa Supreme Court (1987-2001)

Jerry Larson was the real deal.  He was authentic in everything he did.  He was a thoughtful, respectful person who had no problem showing the world how important his family was to him.  We were his work family—fellow judges, admins, clerks, and all other coworkers, which he also highly valued.  He took my son fishing and attended his wedding.  He was my daughter’s grandpa in every way that mattered.  He was there for all her big moments and many small ones.  Jerry was more than “just the boss” in the sense that he taught me so much more than just the job.  I looked up to him in so many ways.  He taught me moral compass, about what was important in life over and above the job.  He taught me true friendship, kindness, pride in my work, responsibility, humor (above all), and celebrating the moment, every moment.  He laughed with me, and he cried with me.  He was my friend. 

Tamara Barrett, administrative assistant for Jerry Larson (1981 to 2008)

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