CR Gazette –
The Gazette Editorial Board
We all want efficient government that delivers the greatest number of vital public services at the lowest cost to taxpayers.
But there comes a point when slashing budgets begins to seriously interfere with a branch, agency or department’s ability to carry out its fundamental mission.
Iowa has crossed that line when it comes to our courts.
Gubernatorial and legislative penny pinching have made it unreasonably difficult for the judicial branch to keep up with exploding caseloads.
Long delays and backlogs are affecting not only civil cases but some major criminal cases. Neither victims or defendants are being served.
That’s not only an inconvenience, there is evidence that it is beginning to compromise Iowans’ right to due process. Legislators must reverse the trend.
In the past 24 years, the number of cases filed in Iowa courts, excluding simple misdemeanors and traffic violations, has increased
50 percent, according to Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady.
The Iowa Code has increased in size by 79 percent, Cady also notes. But the court system is handling those cases with fewer employees today than it had back then.
Across-the-board state budget cuts forced the court system to trim its workplace by more than 10 percent — 200 positions — in 2009 alone. Since then, a third of the state’s clerk of court offices have had to reduce the number of hours they are open to the public.
In his State of the Judiciary speech to legislators last month, Cady asked legislators for a
$10 million increase in funding to fill the gaps left by those cuts.
Cady says a $10 million bump would go a long way — funding 42 positions and help the courts launch an electronic court filing system that would introduce some dramatic efficiencies.
The court system has been making good-faith efforts to run as efficiently as possible. And now it’s legislators’ turn to deliver more realistic financial support to the courts. Weeding out irrelevant, ineffective laws in the Iowa Code also could help reduce the excessive burden on our courts.
A Civil Justice Reform Task Force formed in 2010 is scheduled to release recommendations next month that should help reign in costs and speed things along for at least some civil cases. Resolving more cases by mediation can be helpful.
But there is only so much cost-cutting to be done without compromising the integrity of our courts. An efficient, stable court system is vital to our society. Legislators must authorize adequate funding to carry out that crucial role.