Iowa Courts Struggling with More Budget Cuts

DES MOINES, IOWA  --  With a state budget that's stretched thin and a state legislature stumped on how to bring in more money, it was perhaps no surprise that finances were a big part of yesterday's state of the judiciary address.

Lawyers from the Iowa Bar Association gathered on the second floor of the Capitol following the address, to voice their concerns over last year’s judicial funding freeze.

The President of the Iowa Bar Association, Steve Eckley, says he expects the judicial branch will not receive the budget it is asking for but he remains hopeful.

“We hope, that because the judicial branch has really taken a disproportionate share of hits to its budget over the last few years that this year the legislature and the governor will find a way to hold the line and not cut the judicial branch further,” says Eckley.

Lawyers in Iowa say the budget cuts have caused major strain on Iowa’s court system. Criminal lawyer and Drake Law Professor, Robert Rigg, describes Iowa courts right now as “a waiting game.” He says delays are caused because 3 or 4 cases are booked every fifteen minutes and judges simply cannot effectively see every case each day.

“Clients will appear, they may be down here for a 9 o’clock hearing and they may not get out of the court until 11 o’clock. Not because of anything the court’s doing, it’s because of the delay, caused by the congestion of cases,” says Rigg.

Rigg says with this big of a work load, mistakes are bound to happen.

“It’s not going to necessarily be the judge intentionally making an error, or the clerk’s office intentionally making an error, it’s because of the volume of cases they are trying to handle and they’re trying to do it all at once and as a result, somebody is going to get injured,” says Rigg.

Even when mistakes are made, funding continues to be cut from Iowa courts. Eckley says this is because there isn’t the same political pressure to fund the judicial branch that you see in other areas of the government.

“A lot of people who use the court services, juvenile court, drug court, criminal court, family court. Those are people who tend not to vote, who tend to feel that they don’t have much of a voice. And they are not accustomed to contacting their legislators and saying ‘gosh, we need services through the court system,” says, Eckley.

Eckley says the key to increase judicial funding is making your voice heard. He urges not only clients, but judges, lawyers and clerks, to contact their local legislators with their comments and concerns about Iowa courts.