Jessica Donels


I have a successful track record of negotiating fair outcomes in tough cases. I can point out the weaknesses of the opponent’s case while showing the Judge why my clients deserve a chance. I’m also not afraid to go to trial when it is the right choice for my clients. I will take the time to explain all of your options to you, so that you can make an informed and supported decision.

Before joining the firm, I clerked for a Judge in the Northern District of Iowa. I have experience volunteering with Iowa Legal Aid, the Girl Scouts, and the Presentation Lantern Center. I worked my way through college and law school, and that work ethic will keep me on top of your case.

I live in Urbandale with my husband, daughter, and pup. In my free time, I cook and coach mock trial.

Jess is a rare “triple-threat” attorney – she is a great researcher and writer, she is great in court, and she is kind and patient with her clients. Here is a sample of cases where people have trusted Jess in their most desperate hour:
  • United States v. Marissa MorganS.D. Iowa 4:23-cr-020                                                                                                                                      Jess secured her client a rare sentence of probation in a federal criminal case.
  • United States v. Duane Maulding, S.D. Iowa 3:13-cr-48                                                                                                                                      Mr. Maulding was a federal inmate who was dying of cancer. Jess filed a motion for compassionate relief on his behalf, and convinced the government to stipulate to his release. As a result, Mr. Maulding was able to pass in the comfort of a nursing home near his family. For her work on this case, Jess was awarded the Washington Lawyers Committee Outstanding Achievement Award (for pro bono work on a successful motion for compassionate release of a prisoner).
  • State v. Client name withheld, Polk County FECR347211                                                                                                                                      Jess’ client was accused of stealing trailers that a family member had parked in his backyard. After conducting depositions, it was clear that law enforcement had violated my client’s constitutional rights in trespassing into the backyard to check the trailer’s VINs. Jess filed a motion to suppress, and the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the case. Client’s name is withheld as he is entitled to expunge his record.
  • State v. Michael Connor, Polk County AMCR362965                                                                                                                                              Mr. Connor was detained in Texas and brought back to Iowa for a hearing on an alleged parole violation. At the administrative hearing, Jess was able to demonstrate that there was no evidence of a parole violation whatsoever. Her client was permitted to return to Texas and rejoin his family.
  • United States v. Samantha McMahon, S.D. Iowa 4:21-cr-00158                                                                                                                    Jess secured her client a rare sentence of probation in a federal criminal case.
  • State v. Client Name Withheld, Wapello County FECR014359                                                                                                                      After depositions and an extensive investigation it was revealed that the complaining witness had intentionally deleted exculpatory evidence. Jess convinced the prosecutor to amend the charges from sex abuse third, a class C felony, to trespass, a simple misdemeanor. The client's name is withheld because they will be able to expunge their case.
  • State v. Cory West, Wapello County FECR014201                                                                                                                                                  After depositions and a motion to suppress revealed weaknesses in the case, Jess convinced the prosecutor to amend the charges from a class A felony to an aggravated misdemeanor. Jess' client was sentenced to probation, and was able to avoid life in prison.
  • United States v. Mario Clark, S.D. Iowa 3:23-CR-00021                                                                                                                                        When Jess took over this case from former counsel, her client was facing a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years. After Jess pointed out the flaws in the government's star witness, her client accepted a plea with no mandatory minimum sentence. Ultimately, Jess obtained a sentence of less than 7 years.
  • State v. Client name withheld, Story County SMSM084162 and STA015582                                                                                                    Jess’ client, an ISU student who has dreams of going to law school, unfortunately was arrested for underage drinking at a bar in Ames. Jess was able to negotiate a resolution where her client can have his conviction expunged, although he will still have to disclose the matter on his bar application! Client name withheld as they are entitled to clear their record.
  • United States v. Meamen Nyah, 8th Cir. No. 21-1490, Sup. Ct. No. 22-5691                                                                                                      Mr. Nyah was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, in a complicated case that resulted in his being shot. After Jess’ partner retired, Jess took over the case on appeal and filed a petition for writ of certiorari on Mr. Nyah’s behalf.
  • State v. Jay Sawatzky, Boone County FECR111386                                                                                                                                                  After the Parrish firm was able to get Mr. Sawatzky a new trial due to prosecutorial misconduct, Jess partnered with Brandon Brown to defend Mr. Sawatzky’s criminal case. Mr. Sawatzky was found not guilty by the jury.
  • State v. Benjamin Varela, Muscatine County SMCR061343                                                                                                                                Jess partnered with Brandon Brown to defend Mr. Varela against an allegation that he used excessive force as a police officer. Mr. Varela was found not guilty by the jury.
  • Trenisha Webster v. Jennifer Westlake et al., S.D. Iowa 19-cv-302, 8th Cir. 21-1552                                                                                      Jess partnered with Brandon Brown to sue Des Moines Police Officers who wrongfully arrested Ms. Webster for exercising her constitutional rights. After Brandon and Jess won the right to take the case to trial at the district court, and defeated the defendants’ attempt to appeal the case, Ms. Webster was able to enter into a settlement with the City.
  • State v. Client Name Withheld, Boone County FECR115508                                                                                                                                Jess’ client, a high school student, was charged with two counts of theft of terrorism based on some out-of-context statements that he made to two other students with a history of bullying him. Jess was able to demonstrate that history to the prosecutor, and the state agreed to amend the charge to a simple misdemeanor. Client’s name is withheld because he will be able to expunge his record.
  • Derrick Stewart v. United States, 8th Cir. 21-2791                                                                                                                                                  Jess’ client filed a federal habeas corpus action because his sentence for dealing heroin was wrongfully enhanced. On appeal, Jess was able to convince the Eighth Circuit that the sentence was wrongfully enhanced, but unfortunately, the Eighth Circuit denied relief due to recent changes in Eighth Circuit law. Jess filed a petition for writ of certiorari on Mr. Stewart’s behalf.