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2011 Hon. Donald O'Brien JD’48

2011 Alumni Merit Award Recipient
The Honorable Donald E. O'Brien, JD'48
May 13, 2011


Don O’Brien is a 1948 graduate of the Creighton School of Law.  For 30 years, he practiced privately in Sioux City, Iowa, and held positions including assistant city attorney, county attorney, municipal court judge and eventually, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, appointed by President Kennedy.

In 1978, President Carter named him to the U.S. district court bench. In 1985, he became chief judge for Iowa’s Northern District, taking senior status in 1992. Nearly 20 years later, he remains active on the federal bench in Sioux City.
Throughout his career, Judge O’Brien has demonstrated an unwavering concern for the dignity of all persons. He treats litigants with respect and affords all a full and fair hearing.

In the spirit of his Jesuit education, Judge O’Brien demonstrates his belief in the intrinsic value of human beings. For him, a sentence of imprisonment removes a defendant from society, but that imprisonment does not mean degradation or disregard for human dignity.

Judge O’Brien changed thousands of lives for the better when he ruled that the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution requires basic mental health care for Iowa prison inmates, and forbids confining mentally stable inmates with mentally ill prisoners who are unable to control their behavior.

The principles of justice and compassion regulate Judge O’Brien’s life. His belief in basic fairness and the ability of the legal system to accommodate diverse views has contributed greatly to the common good.  

Creighton University proudly confers the 2011 School of Law Alumni Merit Award to Judge Donald E. O’Brien.