The day after Christmas, Aaron Murphy will become Mitchell County Attorney. It has been a long journey from southern Iowa to Osage, and in January he will celebrate his 25th anniversary at Walk & Murphy, PLC.
“You get where you are based on what you’ve done before,” Murphy said.
However, the journey from his law office to the courthouse is not as far, because they stand across the street from each other.
Murphy graduated from Davis County High School in Bloomfield. Davis County sits on the border with Missouri, as far south in Iowa as Mitchell County is north.
Like many farm kids of his generation, his grandfather survived the Great Depression, and his father Doug Murphy struggled through the Farm Crisis. Across the country in the 1980s, farmers committed suicide and bankers were shot. Many lost their homes and businesses.
From that experience, and from his ancestors, Murphy learned frugality.
“That was a rough time,” Murphy said. “The worst year was 1986. I could see the stress on my dad’s face. He tried to shield it from me, but I worked with him on the farm.”
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He lived his teenage years worrying that someone he knew would lose their home, or their life.
His father told Murphy that if it got too bad, he would simply look for other work. When his father left farming in 1991, he moved to Tampa Bay to begin a landscaping firm focused on hospital lawns.
Things came full circle in 2005, when Murphy’s father moved to Osage.
Osage and Bloomfield share many similarities. They are county seats of around 3,000 people with much of their business centered on agriculture. However, one difference between Mitchell and Davis counties is soil quality.
The former’s is rich in nutrients. Davis County’s not so much. Murphy believes it made the Farm Crisis in southern Iowa more difficult, where there is a higher poverty rate.
In the end, as he began his career, something about Osage and Mitchell County caught his attention.
“It’s not Beverly Hills, but I wouldn’t want to live in Beverly Hills,” Murphy said. “There’s opportunity here. I guess I recognized that. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity, and I was smart enough to latch onto it.
“I never had a doubt what kind of community I wanted to live in. I like a sense of togetherness and comradery. That’s not true everywhere.”
Murphy began his postgraduate career in Ottumwa, at Indian Hills Community College, before moving on to the University of Iowa, where he applied for and was accepted to journalism school. By then, becoming a lawyer was an afterthought. After Iowa, he worked in the financial field.
What brought him to the profession, oddly enough, was a love of writing. He enjoyed writing about things in order to make sense of them. This is something Murphy considers essential to an attorney’s job.
Despite this prompting, he still needed a push.
Murphy was sitting in his American Express office in Bloomfield when he experienced an epiphany. It was August of 1993, and he was a financial advisor/stock broker. That morning, before school had begun for the day, he watched the football team run by, one by one. He does not know why, but it changed his mind.
“Something dawned on me,” Murphy said. “And I said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to be a lawyer.’”
He had already been married since 1991, and it would be an upheaval. While he and his wife continued to work their jobs, Murphy applied to law schools and tried to figure out where to go and what they could afford.
By the time he started law school, the family had their first child, Jacob. Later, they welcomed Sara and Jack into the family. Jacob and Sara now live in Los Angeles.
In December of 1996, Murphy graduated from Drake University Law School. Before he graduated, he and his wife had bought a house in Mitchell County in August. By January of 1997, he was working in Osage, which means he will soon celebrate his 25th anniversary.
At Drake, he worked through the summers to graduate early while living with an aunt in Ankeny.
After his last class at law school, he and a friend had a drink in downtown Des Moines, and then he was on his way to northern Iowa.
When Murphy first applied for a position at the Osage law firm, they said they did not need an attorney. But some time passed, and then it was the law firm contacting him. Current Mitchell County Attorney Mark Walk was on the other line.
Most of Murphy’s memories as assistant county attorney are good. He believes that is why he remembers the bad more vividly.
In the spring of 2000, Murphy, two deputies and a state trooper approached a resident’s house. As they stood outside, Murphy heard a gunshot. A man had aimed a 20-gauge shotgun at his own mouth before pulling the trigger.
“That sticks with you,” Murphy said. “We didn’t see him pull the trigger, but we saw it right afterwards, five seconds afterwards. You think it could’ve been me, or the trooper or one of those deputies that got shot.”
Murphy understands serving the public is not all pleasant, but he continues to do it anyway.
Walk is passing the torch to his law partner. Murphy knew Walk would be stepping down, he just did not know when. While talk began in the spring, Murphy did not know if he would become county attorney, but he knew there would be a transition. It should be a smooth one, since Murphy has served as assistant county attorney since 1996.
During that time, Murphy said he focused more on criminal prosecution, while Walk handled the civil side.
“I’m probably biased,” wife Becky said of her opinion of Murphy’s skill as an attorney. “He does a good job. For the most part, Aaron’s done the prosecution part as far as charges and things like that. He’s well-versed, having done it for 25 years.
“It’s not going to be that much of a change, really. Because Aaron and Mark work together, anyway. But when anything changes, there are new things to get used to, and things to learn how to do. Change is good.”
Murphy will continue work for his private practice. Wife Becky also works at Walk & Murphy, PLC as an office manager. While having retired as county attorney, Walk will continue as a partner.
“There are a lot of wonderful people I’ve worked with or who are clients of mine,” Murphy said. “We’ve had some good cases. Sometimes you feel, ‘Wow, that’s good.’ It’s good to win. You’re not going to be much of a trial attorney if you don’t like to win.
“But at the same time, sometimes you wonder if what you’re doing is really helping anyone. And then something happens and you’re helping people, and you say, ‘I was part of something good.’”
Jason W. Selby is the community editor for the Mitchell Country Press News. He can be reached at 515-971-6217, or by email at email@example.com.