Chief justice says budget cuts creating “stress and strain” for courts
The Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court warns the state’s court system “cannot limp through another year” and needs an extra $10 million to “rebuild” its workforce. Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered the annual “State of the Judiciary” address to the legislature this morning.
“While we have faced budget cuts year after year resulting in a workforce smaller than we had 24 years ago, our workload has increased dramatically,” Cady said.
There’s been a 50 percent increase in the number of cases handled in the state’s court system during that 24 year time period. Cady warned the “stress and strain” means Iowans are waiting too long for their cases to be resolved and 33 clerk of court offices are now operating on a part-time basis because there aren’t enough people on staff to do the work.
“Since 2003, we have cut our full-time workforce 16.5 percent, while the workforce in state government as a whole has grown 1.6 percent,” Cady said.
Cady characterized the $10 million increase he’s asking legislators to approve as a “fraction more” — partly to hire 53 more workers for clerk of court offices and make sure all those offices are open full-time.
“The months and months of cuts and turned to years and years of cuts,” Cady said. “…The spirit that inspires us to do so well is challenged and too often we are forced to operate in ways that we do not want to operate because we know that to do so is not good for Iowans.”
Immediately after the chief justice’s speech, House Republican Leader Linda Upmeyer told reporters it’s a tight budget year.
“I think (Cady) did make his case and we’ll see what we can do,” Upmeyer said.
Representative Gary Worthan, a Republican from Storm Lake, is chairman of the House panel that reviews the budget for the court system.
“Basically they’re between a rock and a hard place,” Worthan says. “They’ve had to take the cuts and 96 percent of their expenditures are personnel.”
Worthan is praising the court’s effort to put all court records on-line and allow people to file documents on-line.
“An attorney can do all the filing work from his office computer, rather than if he’s got a client two counties away having to drive there or sent a legal aide or whatever, so it will reduce costs for our citizens,” Worthan says, “and so we’re really looking forward to getting that in place.”
The computerized system will also allow court employees in rural parts of the state to process documents for cases in overloaded urban counties.