DES MOINES (AP) — The Iowa Supreme Court's chief justice on Wednesday urged lawmakers to approve more funding for the state's court system, saying the courts needed to beef up staffing and improve efficiency.
Chief Justice Mark Cady asked lawmakers gathered for a joint session of the Legislature for their support, and he vowed to make Iowa's court system the best in the nation.
“As we have proven in the past, a great vision can become a reality when we work together,” Cady said.
Iowa's judicial branch has cut costs and reduced staffing in recent years because of state budget cuts. This year the judiciary is requesting an allocation of $167.7 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1. That would be an increase of nearly $6 million over the current year.
Cady said the court needs to increase staffing in juvenile courts, keep court clerk's offices open in Iowa full time and provide more support workers to justices.
Clerk's offices now are closed to the public on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, which Cady said could delay people seeking to file paperwork, such as protection orders sought by domestic violence victims. And Cady said that court proceedings are often delayed due to understaffing.
“We have learned that potential efficiencies in our court system quickly fall out of reach without sufficient personnel,” Cady said. “I have personally called lawyers to apologize for this unfortunate circumstance and for the additional costs.”
If Cady's budget request for the next two years is approved by legislators, the state's courts would hire about 200 staffers over two years.
Staffing levels in the courts have dropped since state budget cuts in late 2009 forced layoffs and the elimination of unfilled jobs. There were 1,935 full-time staffers in the judicial branch in the 2010 fiscal year, compared with 1,776 now, according to a judicial spokesman.
Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, is chairman of the House subcommittee that deals with judicial branch appropriations. He said Cady made a compelling argument for resources.
“He laid out a very good case for what he was asking for,” Worthan said. “I will definitely be supportive of what they're asking for.”
Cady was part of the court when it famously struck down the state's gay-marriage ban in 2009. That ruling angered many of the state's social conservatives. In Cady's speech, he stressed the importance of an impartial judicial system.
“Allegiance to the law is the very core of our judicial system, embodied our oath as judges and our rule of ethics, and it is our pledge to all Iowans,” Cady said. “While some may disagree with the court's work from time to time, it is our hope that this pledge will always be visible in all our work.”
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