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A historical marker for a tavern frequented by Abraham Lincoln while riding a judicial circuit.

The idea of attorneys serving clients in regional 'circuits,' or distinct geographical areas, is a concept that goes all the way back to Abraham Lincoln riding horseback to outlying areas. Our federal 'circuits' derive from this practice.  

Eastern Iowa Criminal Defense Lawyer

by David Cmelik

A defendant seeking a criminal defense lawyer in his her eastern Iowa city or county might start out using the old fashioned “yellow pages” in their locale. I’ve seen law enforcement officers slide across interrogation tables the old yellow-paged books now best suited to hold up three-legged dormitory furniture and kindling for wood-burning fireplaces on cold winter nights. That’s another story for another day. But that yellow tissue paper is admittedly old technology that is waning in its usefulness. Still, an even more old fashioned methodology of attorney selection has stood the test of time—the word of mouth from coworkers and neighbors who receive good legal service at reasonable rates. And that word of mouth can spread like wild fire throughout a jurisdiction and beyond.

Ever since the time of Abraham Lincoln, lawyers have ridden a kind of “circuit,” or circle like path from the warmth of their offices to distant court houses and back. These circuits were shared by judges who did the same. Now, even in the 21st century, counties in outlying areas depend on court service days, typically one per week, in which judges and attorneys arrive and complete a week’s worth of business in a single day and return to a more populous county, like Cedar Rapids or Iowa City, or travel to another rural county the next day.

For example, in Jones County in the Sixth Judicial District, the court service day is Monday while in Iowa and Benton counties, the court service day is Thursday.

Circuit riding was, by storied accounts, the pinnacle of Abraham Lincoln’s existence. Once he was elected President, he believed that his best days of circuit riding were behind him.

Of the rugged commute to outlying areas, Lincoln’s biographer wrote:

“This ‘circuit riding’ involved all sorts of adventures. Hard fare at miserable country taverns, sleeping on the floor, and fording streams, were every-day occurrences. All such occurrences were met with good humor, and often turned into sources of frolic and fun. In fording swollen streams, Lincoln was frequently sent forward as a scout or pioneer. His extremely long legs enabled him, by taking off his boots and stockings, and by rolling up or otherwise disposing of his trousers, to test the depth of the stream, find the most shallow water, and thus to pilot the party through the current without wetting his garments.”

See http://abrahamlincolnsclassroom.org/abraham-lincolns-contemporaries/abraham-lincoln-and-the-eighth-circuit/ (quoting Francis Fisher Browne, The Every-day Life of Abraham Lincoln, p. 157)(last visited March 6, 2015) 

This life is reflected in the establishment of federal “circuits” of which there are 94 judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a United States court of appeals in which attorneys must travel if invited to make oral argument on appeal. See http://www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/UnderstandingtheFederalCourts/CourtofAppeals.aspx (last visited March 6, 2015).

These circuits form the backbone of federal case law from federal courts and the only federal court that is more powerful than a federal circuit court of appeals is the United States Supreme Court itself. 

Every courthouse has culture and a rulebook. Clients looking for insiders who know both the players and the process in their local jurisdiction. For example, should a criminal defendant charge with an criminal offense in Cedar Rapids, Linn County hire an attorney in Iowa City, Johnson County to represent him or her? Both communities are in the same jurisdiction. Felony matters are herd by the same judges that hear cases in Linn County. However, misdemeanors are heard by district associate court judges who do not travel between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. Each courthouse has its own rulebook and culture. And because law is a human endeavor entailing the interaction of people, the local practice can be differently nuanced in each courthouse.

On the other hand, if a defendant is seeking an outside perspective, outside the jurisdiction and outside the box, they might consider hiring an outsider who rides the circuit to that locale. For example, should a criminal defendant charged with a Black Hawk County criminal matter in Waterloo, Iowa, hire a Cedar Rapids attorney to travel to Waterloo, Iowa, to represent him or her? These are personal decisions that depend ultimately on the charge and personality of the defendant—what he or she, as well as family and loved ones, are seeking in the form of an attorney.

I travel to represent defendants throughout eastern Iowa. If you or a loved one is charged with a crime and you are seeking a criminal defense lawyer in eastern Iowa, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Waterloo, Anamosa, Vinton, Marengo, or Linn, Johnson, Black Hawk, Benton, Jones, or other Iowa counties, please contact David A. Cmelik Law PLC at 319-389-1889 or www.daclawfirm.com for a free ½ hour initial consultation.

Remember, however, that reading a blog nor sending information unsolicited to an attorney over the Internet does not establish an attorney-client relationship.