Iowa’s court system could soon be filling vacant judge positions across the state that have been causing delays in court proceedings, if a proposed House GOP budget becomes law.
To balance the budget for the fiscal year that ends in June, the courts eliminated 67 positions statewide and held open judicial vacancies for an average of one year.
Under a House GOP Judicial Branch budget that advanced this week, the court system would get a $4.3 million increase in its appropriation next year.
“It allows them to fill at least half a dozen if not seven judge positions that they had been holding open to make their budget for fiscal year '18,” said Rep. Gary Worthan (R-Storm Lake) who heads the House Justice System Appropriations Budget Subcommittee. “It will take a little time to hire that many judges, but I would anticipate going into the new fiscal year we'll have an almost full contingent of judges statewide.”
A lobbyist for the judicial branch said it would be up to the chief justice to determine which vacancies would be filled.
Under the proposed budget in the House, there will still be 60 court vacancies.
“That's clerical, that's juvenile court officers,” Worthan said. “There'll be a few court reporter positions open.”
A separate judicial branch budget bill is under consideration in the Senate. In a letter to court personnel statewide, Court Administrator Todd Nuccio applauded the House action.
“Given the difficult economic environment and limited resources, we are all thankful to the House of Representatives for making judicial branch funding a priority,” Nuccio wrote. “We are working hard to have the Senate adopt a number for the Judicial Branch that is as close to the House number as possible.”
The increase for next year brings judicial branch funding to more than $178 million.
“At this level, the number of vacancies currently being held would be reduced by approximately half,” Nuccio wrote.
The boost in court funding is part of a budget that is giving some state agencies no increase next year when compared to their initial appropriation this year.
Even with the increase, the judicial branch budget next year would still be less than three years ago.
“Trying to get them back to a level of 2016 represents movement in the right direction,” said Rep. Wes Breckenridge (D-Newton), ranking Democrat on the Judicial Branch Budget Subcommittee.
In his Condition of the Judiciary address this year, Chief Justice Mark Cady said insufficient resources are beginning to “tear at the fabric of the mission of the courts” to provide justice for all Iowans.
“It means Iowans are losing access to justice,” Cady said.
Post was edited at 2:38 to clarify that a separate budget plan is under consideration in the Senate.
Follow Joyce Russell on twitter: @russell_ipr