Maria E. Brownell






100 Court Avenue, Suite 600
Des Moines, IA 50309


Charles Tamay

Court Admissions

All Iowa Courts

U.S. District Courts – Northern and Southern Districts of Iowa


J.D. (Highest Honors), Drake University, 2009

B.S. (Cum Laude), Creighton University, (3-3 pre-law program), 2007

Bar Admissions

Iowa, 2009


Maria is a member of the firm’s Government Law Practice Area and the Litigation Practice Group, as well as chairs the firm's Board Governance Practice Group. She works with public entities including cities, city utilities, counties, special districts and other local governments. She represents clients in both the litigation and appeals process. Her representation of municipal entities includes litigation in federal and state courts, as well as practice before administrative agencies in regard to such matters as public improvement contract litigation, open meetings, public records requests, and the exercise of home rule powers. Maria also serves as chair of the firm's DEI Committee.

Prior to joining Ahlers & Cooney, Maria was an Administrative Law Judge for the State of Iowa, Department of Inspections and Appeals. She conducted hearings and issued proposed decisions in contested case proceedings involving various state and local agencies, including the Department of Human Services, Department of Transportation, Iowa Workforce Development, and Department of Inspections and Appeals. She successfully completed certification at the National Judicial College for Administrative Law: Fair Hearings. Prior to this, she practiced law at a Des Moines law firm in the areas of municipal law, family law, business law, and litigation.

Upon graduation from law school, Maria served as a judicial law clerk to The Honorable Mark S. Cady, Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court for three years. During law school, she served as an extern to The Honorable Lee M. Jackwig, Chief Judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Iowa and as a Summer Associate with the Ahlers & Cooney law firm. At Drake Law School, she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Drake Journal of Agricultural Law. As the child of a native-born Puerto Rican, Maria speaks both English and Spanish.

Representative Projects

  • Successfully represented a 28E entity in defending the use of eminent domain authority to acquire land to develop a drinking water reservoir for the members’ local communities
  • Successfully represented a city in a condemnation appeal post-jury trial in seeking denial of litigation and expert witness fees
  • Engaged as special counsel to manage and litigate eminent domain actions and nuisance property actions for a large metro community
  • Assists cities and counties with special assessment projects and procedures
  • Reviews and negotiates construction and engineering contracts
  • Assists cities' and counties' communities with public bidding and procurement procedures for public improvement projects


Iowa State Bar Association

  •  Centralized Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force (2021 - present)

Polk County Bar Association

Polk County Women Attorneys


Best Lawyers in America©

  • Construction Law (2023-2024)
  • Municipal Law (2023-2024)
  • Litigation - Municipal (2024)

Super Lawyers Great Plains - State/Local/Municipal Law (Rising Star 2018-2019)

Order of the Coif

Academic Achievement Award for International Intellectual Property Law, Drake Law School


Maria's most recent speaking engagements include:

Iowa League of Cities, Nuisance Abatement Conference, "Setting Your City Up for Success with Strong Codes and Procedures," May 2024

Iowa City/County Management Association, Iowa Municipal Management Institute, "Avoiding Legal Landmines in the Use of ChatGPT and Other AI Tools," with Emily Duffy, March 2024

Ahlers & Cooney, Client Webinar - Municipal Law 101 for Cities:  Building Blocks for Local Leaders, with Kristine Stone, January 2024

American Society of Civil Engineers, 2023 ASCE Land Surveying Conference, "Surveyor Right of Entry in Iowa," with Jenna Sabroske, November 2023

Iowa Municipal Professionals Institute 2023, "Financing Options and Economic Development," with Jason Comisky, Kristin Cooper and Jenna Sabroske, October 2023

Iowa League of Cities, Nuisance Abatement Conference, "Legal Considerations for Demolition of Unsafe Properties," with Logan Brundage, May 2023

Iowa Concrete Paving Association, 2022 Municipal Streets Seminar, "Financing Street Improvements," with Elizabeth Burnett, November 2022

Iowa Municipal Attorneys Association, New City Attorney Institute, "Rules of Procedure, Effective Meetings, and Open Meetings and Records Guidance," with Logan Brundage, November 2022

Iowa Municipal Professionals Institute 2022, "Financing Options and Economic Development," with Jason Comisky, Kristin Cooper and Jenna Sabroske, October 2022

Iowa State Association of County Auditors, "You May Be in 'Jeopardy' - Hot Topics for Clerks to Stay out of 'Trouble'," with Logan Brundage, June 2022

Iowa Economic Development Authority, 2022 Iowa Downtown Conference, "Property Acquisition 101 for Iowa Cities — What to do When Negotiations Fall Apart," with Olivia Brooks, August 2022

Iowa League of Cities, Nuisance Abatement Conference, "How to Take Action on Abandoned Properties," with Kristine Stone, May 2022

Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities, 27th Annual Water & Wastewater Operator’s Training Workshop, "Legal Considerations," November 2021

Iowa Municipal Professionals Institute 2021, "Financing Options and Economic Development," with Jason Comisky, Kristin Cooper and Jenna Sabroske, October 2021

Iowa Municipal Attorneys Association, Webinar, "Right of Way Management: Legal Considerations and Best Practices," with Kristine Stone, May 2021

Iowa City/County Management Association, Iowa Municipal Management Institute, "Property Acquisition 101: What to do When Negotiations Fall Apart," with Kristine Stone and Jenna Bishop, March 2021

Iowa Municipal Attorneys Association, Annual Seminar, "Public Improvement Best Practices," with Kristine Stone, November 2020

Iowa Municipal Professionals Institute 2020, "Financing Options and Economic Development," with Jenna Bishop, Jason Comisky, and Kristin Cooper, July 2020

Published Articles & Books

Cityscape, Iowa League of Cities, Vol 79 No. 09, "Annexation Procedures and Strategies: What to Know Before You Grow," co-authored with Jenna Sabroske, March 2024

Note, Coffee Trademark Licensing for Farmers: Brewing a Farmer-Owned Brand, 14 Drake J. Agric. L. 291 (2009)

Professional, Community and Civic Leadership

Drake University Law School, Board of Counselors (2024 - present)

Iowa Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission (2022 - present)

Lead DSM, Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute, Class of 2022-2023

U.S. Magistrate Judge Merit Selection Panel, Southern District of Iowa (2022)

Iowa State Bar Association, Board of Governors, District 5C Representative (2021-2023)

Polk County Bar Association, Volunteer Lawyer Project, Board of Directors (2014 - present), Immediate Past President (2022), President (2016 - 2021), Secretary (2014-2016)

Polk County Magistrate and District Associate Judge Nominating Commission (2015-2020)

Polk County Women Attorneys, Secretary (2014-2015), Treasurer (2016), President-Elect (2017)

Food Bank of Iowa, Board of Directors (2016-2017)

Luther Care Services, Board of Directors (2014-2016)

Valley High School, Mock Trial Coach (2008-2013), Judge (2013-2015)

St. John’s Lutheran Church, Fine Arts Committee (2011-2020), Children’s Ministry (2011-2020)

Young Women’s Resource Center, Basket Auction Committee Co-Chair (2012)

Iowans for Fair and Impartial Courts

P.E.O., Des Moines Chapter KT