Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady struck a more positive tone this year with his forward-looking speech to lawmakers Wednesday. He said the court system is building a culture of “continuous improvement.”
“Let us imagine what your courts can be and where they can take us in our pursuit to achieve justice for all Iowans,” Cady said in his ninth Condition of the Judiciary address. “When we have a chance to make a difference, we should take it. Let us make that difference together.”
Last year, he warned lawmakers that budget cuts meant Iowans were losing access to justice. Those issues haven’t gone away.
“It’s been harder and harder for us to service all 99 counties with some of the budget cuts we’ve experienced in previous years,” Cady told reporters after his speech. “We see technology as a way to restore what we’ve lost there.”
Court officials are asking lawmakers for an additional $7.2 million in the next fiscal year, which would bring the judicial branch’s total state funding for the next fiscal year to $184.8 million.
Nearly $2.5 million of that new money would go toward new digital services, like online dispute resolution for small claims.
“Imagine an online process that will allow Iowans to resolve some of their legal disputes without taking time from work to go to the courthouse,” Cady said as lawmakers applauded.
He also mentioned text messages to remind defendants of court hearings and electronic transmission of search warrants to law enforcement officers.
Rep. Gary Worthan, a Storm Lake Republican, chairs the committee that handles the justice system budget. He said it will be tough to find the additional money, but tech needs are always front and center.
“Mainly because of the nature of the state,” Worthan said. “We have to be able to bridge the distances between courthouses with something that makes our workforce more efficient.”
He said discussions of court system salaries are “always pretty contentious.” The judicial branch is requesting a 4 percent raise for judges.
Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, is also on the justice system funding committee. He said Republicans decided on numbers behind closed doors the past two years, and he hopes for a better process this year.
“At some point you’ve got to stop the bleeding and make sure basic public services are being met,” Hogg said. “The judicial branch has been cut a lot.”