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Judge Trades Her Gavel for a Guitar

October 2004


The band onstage at the Starlight Ballroom in Davenport had it going on: hot vocals and rocking instrumentals as they segued from the Eagles to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to Sheryl Crow. But there was a special attraction that evening that had people craning their necks in curiosity in addition to tapping their toes: Retired Iowa Supreme Court Justice and St. Ambrose board member Linda Neuman, electric guitar cradled in her arms, who was laying down the law in an entirely new way.

Clearly, this wasn't just another "Tequila Sunrise."

A change would do you good

Neuman's connection to the band, a bunch of Scott County government employees who call themselves the BureauCats, started when Kurt Ullrich in the auditor's office invited her to play with them in a benefit gig for the Iowa Association of Counties Scholarship fund. "They're real musicians," she insists, admitting she was a little intimidated at first. At the same time, she was intrigued by the juxtaposition of roles. "We're not one-dimensional people, any of us," Neuman says. "Dedicated lawmakers, law-enforcers and law interpreters are as multi-talented as other people."

We haven't had that spirit here since 1969

Actually, music has always been integral to Neuman's life. "I've played folk guitar for fun over the years," she says. A trained cellist and enthusiastic vocalist, she had to put music on hold when she became an Iowa Supreme Court judge. Then, when she retired last year, she thought about taking classical guitar lessons. Instead, Ullrich had an electric guitar with her name on it.

Sparks fly from her fingertips

Neuman found out quickly the difference between a folk and electric guitar: The chords are same, but the sound is worlds apart. "There's a real sense of power with the electric guitar," she says. Still, the flair for extemporizing she showed on the bench didn't quite make it onstage. "I never riffed out," she admits. "I stuck mainly to rhythm guitar, although I did do some finger picking on an old Dylan song."

All we wanna do is have some fun

The drive that made Neuman the youngest justice to serve in more than a century almost took over at one point when the band was asked to fill in at the last minute for the Grand Excursion celebration in July. "I was getting worried about being ready for this, and suddenly I pulled back," she says. "I thought, ‘This isn't life or death, and if I make a fool of myself, so what?' Much of my life has been centered on serious decisions, so this is just fun."

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