He saw an attorney in a high-profile trial get into an elevator with the jury, said Greg Kenyon, a Des Moines attorney who delievered one of the eulogies for Cady days after the Iowa Supreme Court chief justice’s sudden death.
Cady objected, and the attorney challenged him, “essentially threatening to end his career before it began,” Kenyon said.
But Cady didn’t back down, and the judge declared a mistrial.
“It was his abiding sense of right, wrong and fairness which distinguished his work,” Fort Dodge attorney Mark Brownlee said of his friend of four decades, whom he called “a judge’s judge.”
Cady, best known for writing the opinion that made Iowa the third state to permit same-sex marriages, died of a heart attack while walking his dog Friday in Des Moines. He was 66.
Wednesday’s speakers in front of a Knapp Center crowd of about 1,500 illustrated his qualities outside the courtroom.
Kenyon said his Drake Law School classmate favored hot dogs, frozen pizza and turkey subs from Jimmy John’s. He was also partial to a freshly pressed shirt.
“You think he could make a ruling in court. He is a Michelangelo with a steam iron,” Kenyon said.
Brownlee noted Cady’s dedication to his family. He recalled a time he suggested Cady trade his decades-old golf putter for a newer design.
“I can’t; my family gave me this putter for Father’s Day,” Cady told Brownlee, who on Wednesday suggested Cady’s son, Spencer Cady, add the putter to his bag. “Your dad would love that.”
‘Oblivious to his iconic stature’
Cady was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1998 and served as chief justice since 2011. But his first job out of law school was the one as a law clerk in Fort Dodge, the Webster County town he would call home the rest of his life.
“Mark was the pride of Fort Dodge, particularly among the local attorneys,” Brownlee said. “His naturally modest nature made him largely oblivious to his iconic stature in Fort Dodge, where he was beloved and respected by people of every walk of life and circumstance who so appreciated Mark’s ‘regular-guy’ nature.”
Decades later, Cady, a seasoned Supreme Court justice, pulled a case assignment out of a bag at random.
It meant that Cady would write the court’s unanimous decision in Varnum v. Brien, saying Iowa’s Constitution required that the right to marry be extended to same-sex couples.
“Iowa was fortunate that he drew that case,” said Marsha Ternus, the chief justice on that court. She complimented the eloquence of his words, digestible to all Iowans, with or without a law degree.
“He was a student of the law, not an advocate for a certain viewpoint or judicial philosophy,” Ternus said.
Innovations as important as the rulings
Though she considers the Varnum decision one of Cady’s finest, Ternus said he is also deserving of recognition for countless other efforts he made toward improving the judicial system.
“He wanted all Iowans to understand how the courts operate and to know that the courts are here for them,” Ternus said, lauding his efforts to take oral arguments on the road to Iowa communities, his establishment of the Iowa Access to Justice Commission and his tireless championing of juvenile justice reform.
Cady was distressed by disproportionate minority representation in the state’s criminal justice system and sought to combat it while also expanding specialty family, drug and veterans courts, she said.
Although Cady wasn’t keen on public speaking at the outset, “he became a clear and compelling voice for the delivery of justice, particularly for those who had fallen through the cracks of the judicial system,” Brownlee said.
Just last Friday, Cady drafted a letter to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee urging support for a bill that would strengthen treatment programs for veterans around the country, Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said Wednesday.
“’For veterans in the criminal justice system, the courts are often the first and last responders,’” Hecht said Cady wrote.
Hecht, who is taking over as president of the Conference of Chief Justices for Cady, who had been appointed to the national role in July, said that in the past couple of days he’s received letters of admiration for Cady from judicial leaders across the nation.
These testimonies painted a portrait of Cady as “soft-spoken but strong, smiling but serious about his work, learning but laughing, distinguished, exceptional, respectful and humble, and most of all beloved,” Hecht said.
Brownlee confirmed that Cady did, in fact, have a less tactful side.
Of the hundreds of golf rounds he’s played with Cady, Brownlee said the most fierce was the annual Dean’s Cup Tournament, pinning University of Iowa law school graduates against Drake law school graduates.
Although Brownlee said his UI team could handle defeat graciously, “what was hard to take was Mark’s increasingly annoying giddiness as it became clear down the stretch that they were again going to prevail.”
“’For God’s sake, act like you’ve been in a limo before,’” Brownlee recalled his team admonishing Cady, captain of the Drake team, after another Bulldog win.
“It did no good,” he said to the crowd’s delight, before announcing that the Dean’s Cup will be renamed the Cady Cup.
‘The best course is to be a good person’
Ternus said that when lawyers argued before the court, Cady would ask questions in a calm, even tone, regardless of how “reasonable or ridiculous” the lawyers’ responses were, she said.
“Mark understood that lawyers only had a few minutes to present their case, and out of respect he never usurped their time with persistent questioning,” she said.
“In short, Mark’s personality didn’t change when he put on the black robe,” Ternus continued. “His inherent kindness and respect for others guided his conduct on the bench as much as it guided his conduct off the bench. He was, quite simply, the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet.”
A student recently asked Cady during a panel discussion to explain what makes a good lawyer, Kenyon said. Should they be more aggressive? More clever? Talk in a certain way?
“I find the best course is to be a good person,” Kenyon recalled Cady telling the student.
Cady and his wife were supposed to have dinner with John Roberts, chief justice of the United States, on Thursday night in Washington, D.C.
Instead, Brownlee, who spoke at Cady’s investitures for his appeals and Supreme Court appointments, told the crowd they were gathered for what he called the chief justice’s “final investiture into Iowa judicial immortality.”
Anna Spoerre covers courts for the Des Moines Register. She can be contacted at email@example.com, 515-284-8387 or on Twitter at @annaspoerre.