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Ahlers takes on higher duty

Fort Dodge judge sworn in to Iowa Court of Appeals

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Judge Paul Ahlers’ children, Katie and Ben, help with his robing during his investiture ceremony Friday at the Iowa Supreme Court. There, the Fort Dodge judge was sworn in as the Iowa Court of Appeals’ 33rd judge.

DES MOINES — Judge Paul B. Ahlers, a former District Court judge from Fort Dodge, was sworn in as the 33rd judge on the Iowa Court of Appeals Friday.

Ahlers joins the nine-judge panel as Gov. Kim Reynolds’ fourth appointment to the appellate court, just a step below the Iowa Supreme Court. Appointed Nov. 26, Ahlers has already been putting what his jurist peers praised as a brilliant legal mind to work.

“(Ahlers) is meant for the court, and they’re going to find the reverse is true as well,” said Judge Patrick Carr, senior judge on the Iowa Court of Appeals and formerly the third judicial district.

Calling him a “legal machine,” a longtime attorney friend of Ahlers made a point of pride for the new appellate judge prominent at his investiture inside the Iowa Supreme Court.

“I suspect he’s one of the few lawyers in the entire state that reads every decision of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals each month — every single one — and he’s been doing this for about two decades,” said Aaron Oliver. “He’s the go-to lawyer for case law updates.”

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Gov. Kim Reynolds administers the oath of office to Judge Paul Ahlers of Fort Dodge, the 33rd judge appointed to the Iowa Court of Appeals.

From judges and attorneys alike, Ahlers was praised for his extensive resume, sharp scholarly mind, versatile proficiency in both criminal and civil law and grounding sense of humor.

“I read Ahlers’ application,” Carr said, joking about its length. “I began skimming through the list of accomplishments.”

And while Carr said Ahlers is often the smartest man in the room, his career was not one of an opportunist checking off the boxes as he climbed the court’s ladder.

“If he did something in his past, he didn’t do it so he could sit here today,” Carr said. “He saw his obligation to the profession and he executed it.”

A 1991 finance graduate of Iowa State University and 1994 law school graduate from the University of Iowa, Ahlers practiced privately at firms in Spencer, Fort Dodge and Webster City before serving as claim counsel for Travelers Insurance Company in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In 2011, Ahlers took the bench in Fort Dodge, covering a district of 13 counties.

“As I got further into practice and gained experience, I felt I had the skillset and temperament to be a good judge,” Ahlers told The Messenger in a previous interview, explaining that he felt an obligation to put his legal talent to work for the court.

“We have an obligation to apply for those spots,” in the judicial system, he explained.

If people fit for the duty do not, Ahlers said the less qualified will take their place.

After getting through the judicial application process three times in the last year, he thanked his long-suffering family for their support on the path to this point.

“I’m a better person today for having had you in my life,” he said to his children, Kate and Ben, after they assisted in his robing, thanking them for the lessons they’ve taught him.

Katie Ahlers is a senior in dietetics at Iowa State University preparing for medical school. Ben Ahlers, a graduate of the University of Michigan, is an actor in New York City.

Judge Ahlers credited his mother for introducing him to the legal profession as a legal secretary for a law firm in Spencer — the first firm he worked at after he graduated from law school.

“I never thought, growing up as a regular kid in rural northwestern Iowa, the son of a farmer and a legal secretary, that one day I’d end up here,” he said. “I consider myself truly blessed.”

Ahlers fills the vacancy on the appellate court left by Judge Amanda Potterfield. Ahlers will continue to live in Fort Dodge as he works in Des Moines.