Colleagues and friends of Assistant Federal Public Defender Jane Kelly said her demeanor and sense of fairness will make her an ideal judge for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to replace retired Judge Michael Melloy.
Kelly is well known and respected for her "zealous" advocacy of defendants, even from those who came up against her in court.
U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose in Des Moines said she and Kelly were on different sides in court but Rose, the former U.S. Attorney, said she admires and respects Kelly, and they are good friends.
"She has a great blend of personality, skills and common sense to make a great lawyer and a judge," Rose said. "Jane is tremendously skilled. I met her in 1997 when I joined the (U.S. Attorney's) office. We had a lot in common - had the same goals and ambitions."
Melloy, who retired Thursday but will take senior status, said he is thrilled Kelly received the nomination.
"She is very intelligent and thoughtful," Melloy said. "She is a good writer which is important on the appellate court. It will be good to have someone from the public defender realm on the bench."
Kelly was nominated by President Obama, who was in her graduating class at Harvard Law in 1991, Thursday. She has been an assistant public defender in the Northern District since 1994 and supervising attorney in the Cedar Rapids office since 1999.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Ian Thornhill said Kelly is an "outstanding" nominee and will make a great addition to the court. Thornhill worked with Kelly for several years when he was an assistant U.S. Attorney.
"We had several cases together," Thornhill said. "I have nothing but respect for her. She is professional and very bright. I consider her a friend as well as a colleague."
Sixth Judicial District Associate Judge Casey Jones said Kelly was a great mentor to him when he went from being a county public defender to the federal system. "She is one of the most brilliant people I've ever met," Jones said.
Mark Brown, a Cedar Rapids defense attorney, said Kelly is intelligent and has great common sense. He worked with Kelly more than once on cases where he had the defendant in state court and she followed it up in federal court.
Steve Swift, a Cedar Rapids defense attorney, said Kelly will have a different viewpoint from others on the court coming from the defense side.
"And she's just a lovely person," Swift said.
Mike Lahammer, a Cedar Rapids defense attorney, said Kelly will make a nice replacement for Melloy, who is "highly respected." Lahammer has known Kelly since 1994, when he was a courtroom deputy clerk for Melloy, who was a district judge and Kelly was already a public defender.
Lahammer said her commitment to helping people didn't change after she was brutally attacked in 2004 on the Cedar River Trail. Kelly was jogging on the trail when she was tackled from behind by an unknown man.
"It was apparently a random attack which didn't seem to deter her at all," Lahammer said. Her character is above reproach."
Melloy and others said they are hopeful that Kelly will get a Senate vote by spring or summer. She has the support of Sen. Harkin, who said Thursday he is looking forward to working with Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, to move her nomination through the Senate.
Several non-profit coalitions, including One Iowa, Working Families Win, Iowa Citizen Action Network and Progress Iowa, also urged Grassley Thursday to quickly move Kelly through the process.
University of Richmond School of Law Prof. Carl Tobias said Kelly's nomination will likely get to the Senate floor by this spring. Ahead of Kelly there are four nominees on the floor now waiting for votes and there are three more who have yet to have a hearing.
"Hopefully, Grassley can help move this one through," Tobias, who analyzes the judiciary, said. "It's important for her to have his support and the other groups."
If Kelly is confirmed, she will only be the second woman to serve on the 8th Circuit bench. Judge Diana Murphy in Minneapolis is currently the only woman ever appointed to the court.