Thursday, December 15, 2022

Iowa Court of Appeals Hon. Sharon Soorholtz Greer (82JD) values relationships and doesn’t take herself too seriously. As a law student in the early 1980s, she frequently organized social activities among classmates. Her service-minded nature now extends to her work on the court, where she says she writes opinions so the litigants will be able to truly understand the reasoning behind the court’s decisions.

With her focus on reaching people, it’s no surprise that the Iowa Law Review Board recognized her for its Alumni Achievement Award.

Working hard and having fun

Soorholtz Greer earned dual undergraduate degrees in psychology and child development and considered pursuing a PhD in psychology. But she was inspired to consider law school by her grandfather, a farmer who was prevented by the Great Depression from pursuing his own dream of becoming a lawyer.

Soorholtz Greer kept busy during law school, joining Law Review and working as a research assistant for insurance law expert Professor Alan Widniss. But she also found time to socialize. “I was always organizing different social activities and those sorts of things, so that we all remained healthy,” she recalls.

As a litigator for Cartwright, Druker & Ryden, Soorholtz Greer worked in a variety of practice areas. “I got involved with a lot of the law school activities like leadership stuff, and so from there, I just kept my eyes open and my options open ended up joining a firm that did a lot of litigation and ended up working for an insurance defense firm,” she says. “[I] still did family law and some juvenile stuff, though. When you practice in small town Iowa, you do get a nice variety.”

For many years, Soorholtz Greer worked with her husband, Joel Greer. But, she says, the couple decided early on that they wouldn’t try cases together, in part because Soorholtz Greer’s big-picture thinking was a very different approach from her husband’s meticulous attention to detail. She jokes about one early case where they did appear in court together, recalling, “The judge called us up and said, ‘Am I gonna have to get you divorce lawyers?’.”

Judge enjoys variety and service on bench and in the community

In 2019, the litigator with interests in a range of subject matters was appointed to the Iowa Court of Appeals. She enjoys the variety of cases that come before her and also appreciates the opportunity to give back to her community. “It’s a way to give service so I really love that part of it,” Soorholtz Greer comments. “And it’s interesting every day. I mean, it's like writing a response to a law review question every day.”

Soorholtz Greer says people sometimes don’t expect her sense of humor and quick wit. Once as a young attorney, as she sat at counsel table alone, the judge told her, “Honey, your attorney will be here soon.” Without missing a beat, Soorholtz Greer replied, “I have a big surprise for you: I am the attorney.”

“I've been through a lot of that stuff,” Soorholtz Greer remarks. “But I think the thing that surprised people was instead of being mad about that kind of thing, I would generally turn it into humor.” As a judge, she tries to create an open and friendly environment in her chambers and with colleagues on the bench.

One thing Soorholtz Greer is serious about is giving back to her community. She brings her background in psychology and child development as well as litigation and judicial experience to volunteer work on substance abuse and child protection issues. She currently serves on the Iowa Governor’s Drug Policy Advisory Council. She also is active in court initiatives like a committee on jury instructions, as well as Court on the Road, an initiative to teach high school students about the judiciary and related careers.

Iowa Law in Judge Greer’s chambers

All of Soorholtz Greer’s clerks so far have been Iowa Law alumni. “When we interview over Iowa [Law], every time we have difficult decisions to make because the choices are so excellent,” she notes.

Soorholtz Greer says it’s an honor to be selected for the Alumni Achievement Award. Even as a seasoned litigator and now judge, though, she says she’s sometimes surprised by accolades. “You just kind of roll along all the years doing your thing and then when somebody says to you, ‘Oh, you should get this award,’ you're like, ‘Why? What are you talking about?’,” says the unassuming appellate judge. “I'm really grateful.”

“Meeting people like Judge Soorholtz Greer reminds us that our careers and future lives are best lived when we give back to the institutions that started our careers and helped us along the way,” said Iowa Law Review Editor in Chief Kate Conlow in remarks at the awards ceremony. “When my Law Review colleagues and I selected Judge Soorholtz Greer as the recipient of this award, we recognized someone who had not only achieved incredible success in her career, but who also used that success to give back to her community.”

All joking aside, it’s a high standard for those who follow in her footsteps.