Although retiring as a magistrate, Vance is not giving up law practice
BY BROOKS TAYLOR
Mt. Pleasant News
Mt. Pleasant attorney Mike Vance wants to make one thing perfectly clear — he may be retiring as a magistrate, but he has no intentions of retiring from his law practice.
Vance will be ending a 19-year run on the magistrate bench Dec. 31.
He added that it was not a difficult decision to retire from his magistrate duties. “The Iowa Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, decided not to give raises the next few years, and I was already at my maximum with IPERS and deferred compensation. I can make as much with deferred compensation that I could by continuing to be a magistrate.”
The magistrate duties can be a grind — especially when you retain a law practice. Vance’s vehicle could be seen at his office frequently on weekends, and he said he hopes the white SUV won’t be a fixture on West Monroe Street as much on Saturdays and Sundays.
“The magistrate’s job is much more demanding than people think. Both of us (Tim Liechty is the other magistrate) are practicing attorneys and that makes it difficult at times.
“One of us is on (the bench) every morning Monday through Friday and then we have all the late night and weekend calls for search warrants, arrest warrants and mental health issues,” he noted. “There’s probably only six or seven days that we haven’t had to come in (on weekends and holidays).”
While he will not miss the early morning and Sunday night phone calls, Vance said his time in magistrate court was well worth it. He sought the position for a new perspective on law and the court system.
“I wanted a different perspective on what goes on in court,” he reflected. “It gave me a different perspective because I was able to see things through the eyes of a judge. I still am a lawyer in district-court cases and the knowledge I gained (from being a magistrate) helped me to better present my case.”
Vance, since graduating from the University of Iowa and entering a law practice with his grandfather nearly 41 years ago, has seen law up close and personal from several angles. He served as assistant Henry County attorney from 1979 to 1997 and is the city attorney for Westwood, where he resides, and Wayland.
As a magistrate, he said some of his most difficult decisions involved mental health cases. “Occasionally, a person may be in need of mental-health treatment, but if the person is not threatening themself or others, you don’t want to take their freedom away. That was hard because you were taking away freedom and didn’t know the whole situation.”
Decisions on search warrants also could be difficult, he said, for the same reason. “When you’re approving the issuance of a search warrant, it becomes a case of invading someone’s personal space. You have to determine whether there is probable cause for them (law enforcement) to find what they are searching for.”
In addition to Liechty, Vance also served as a magistrate with Dave McCoid until McCoid retired about a decade ago.
Naturally, he has seen many changes in the system during his time on the bench. The most significant change, he said, is the electronic filing of court documents.
Other changes include the abolishment of mental-health referees with their duties falling on magistrates. “It has gotten very difficult to find mental-health treatment and beds,” he remarked.
Some of the other changes focused on changes in the law, keeping up with search and seizure laws, which Vance said have changed dramatically in the standards used.
“There just have been so many changes in laws on the civil, criminal and mental-health side,” Vance remarked.
He said that as his magistrate duties wind down, he is looking forward to devoting more time to his practice and family and he emphatically said he plans to practice law indefinitely.
“I am going to stay with what I’m doing,” he began. “I am changing my focus to real-estate and corporation contracts, income tax, wills, estates and trusts. I really hope I will be able to spend more time with my family and traveling.”
The Vances have four children and three grandchildren. None of the children live in Iowa. Two reside in Texas, another in Arizona and the fourth in Milwaukee.
But he knows he will miss being a magistrate. “From a time perspective, I won’t miss it, and I won’t miss the calls at 3 a.m. I will miss my interaction with others, but hopefully you won’t see my car here as much on weekends.”