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Donald Eugene O'Brien

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Title: Donald Eugene O'Brien  
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Subject: Marcus, Iowa, United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Michael Joseph Melloy, Donald O'Brien
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Donald Eugene O'Brien

This article is about the U.S. district judge. For the actor, see Donald O'Brien (actor).

Donald Eugene O'Brien (born September 30, 1923) is a United States district judge, in service since 1978, now on senior status. He was an officer in the United States Army Air Corps in World War II, a Democratic nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives, a United States Attorney, and a valued political organizer.[1]

O'Brien was born in Marcus, Iowa to Michael J. and Myrtle O'Brien on September 30, 1923. He interrupted his college coursework at Trinity College in Sioux City, Iowa to serve as a lieutenant in the United States Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1945. He flew 30 bombing missions over Europe and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross.[2] After completing his undergraduate studies at Trinity College, he entered Creighton University School of Law, graduating in 1948 with an LL.B. degree. He was in private practice in Sioux City from 1948 to 1949, before becoming an assistant city attorney of Sioux City in 1949. He married Ruth Mahon in 1950. In 1952 he chaired the Adlai Stevenson's presidential campaign in his Iowa congressional district.[3] After serving as the County Attorney of Woodbury County, Iowa from 1955 to 1958, he served as a Sioux City municipal judge from 1959 to 1960.

In 1958 and again in 1960, O'Brien was the Democratic nominee to represent Iowa's 8th congressional district in the U.S. House,[4] but lost both races to longtime Republican incumbent Charles B. Hoeven.[5] In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed him the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, a position he held until 1967. Soon after leaving office, he became a valued advance man in the 1968 presidential campaigns of Robert F. Kennedy,[6] then George McGovern,[7] and later Hubert H. Humphrey.[8] He was in private practice in Sioux City, Iowa from 1967 to 1978. He organized McGovern's general election campaign in Southern California in 1972 and Jimmy Carter's general election campaign in Michigan in 1972.[9] In 1977 he served as special counsel to a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Small Business for its investigation of anti-competitive practices in the meat industry.[9]

From 1962 to 1979, Iowa had three federal district judges — one in the Northern District, one in the Southern District, and a third serving both Districts. On September 27, 1978, President Carter nominated O'Brien to succeed Judge William C. Hanson in the third of those positions. O'Brien was confirmed by the United States Senate on October 4, 1978, and received his commission on October 5, 1978. O'Brien presided in the western and central divisions of both Districts until December 1, 1990, when he began to serve exclusively in the Northern District as a new judgeship was added in the Southern District. He served as chief judge of the Northern District from 1985 to 1992.

O'Brien assumed senior status on December 30, 1992, and continues to preside over cases from chambers in Sioux City.



  • Neil Miller, Sex-Crime Panic: A Journey to the Paranoid Heart of the 1950s (NY: Alyson Books, 2002)
  • Federal Judicial Center.
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