(Note: this is the first in a series of stories about Iowa’s new Supreme Court Chief Justice)
The justice who will take over as the first woman Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court met with reporters for the first time Monday. Fifty-five-year-old Marsha Ternus grew up near Urbana and graduated from Vinton High School. Pursuing the top position in the Iowa court system was not one of her goals.
Ternus says when she went to college she never had any idea of what career she might have. Ternus says she went to work at a bank with no idea she would become a lawyer — let alone becoming the Chief Justice. Ternus says the magnitude of the job hit her after the other judges voted her to succeed retiring Chief Justice Louis Lavorato.
Ternus says, “I felt really privileged to be chosen for this position. But I must say another reaction I had was that it was almost overwhelming to think of the responsibilities that I would have also.” Ternus says there’s the responsibility to act as the spokesperson for the judicial branch, to advocate for the courts, to work collaboratively with all the components within the court system. As for being the first woman Chief Justice — Ternus says doesn’t see herself as a groundbreaker.
“No I don’t. I don’t really,” Ternus says, “I’ve never really thought of my career in those terms, as being a female in those various roles. It’s just me, doing what I love to do. It’s always been surprising to me when people react, or respond to me in that way, singling out the fact that I’m a woman.” Ternus says though, she doesn’t take it lightly that she will be viewed as a role model for girls in her new role.
Ternus has three teenage kids and says she wants to be viewed as just another Iowan doing her job. Although Ternus admits her rise in the legal profession is a good story. Ternus says her 18-year-old daughter calls her the “classic success story of the farm girl who grew up and made good. Ternus says that’s really what she is, a farm girl who grew up, decided to be a judge and ended up on the Supreme Court never dreaming she’d be in this position.
Ternus says becoming Chief Justice won’t really change her — as a judge or at home. Ternus says any authority she has as Chief Judge does not carry over to her house, although she says she’d like to convince her kids of that. Ternus takes over her role as Chief Justice at midnight on Friday September 29th — but says don’t expect her to be in the office Saturday morning.