Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady got legislators' attention recently when he described court system problems related to lack of funding.
Now, the judicial ball is in the Legislature's court, where it seems there's plenty of sympathy and understanding, but where funding prospects are uncertain.
We believe some funding increase is necessary, whether or not it's the full $10 million Cady asked for in his State of the Judiciary speech to the Legislature.
Cady told lawmakers the system is stretched to the limit, and has said that layoffs are the only alternative to increased funding.
He said the court system has a smaller workforce than it had 24 years ago and is dealing with a much bigger workload.
"During this 24-year period, the number of cases filed with our courts, excluding simple misdemeanors and traffic violations, has increased 50 percent," he said. "During this same time, the Code of Iowa has increased in size by 79 percent."
Several other factors play into the request for additional funding.
Certainly one is inconvenience to Iowans, especially in rural areas where they have to drive longer distances for court services and judges have to drive to provide them, thus increasing costs.
Another is the money the court system brings in. The current judicial budget is $154 million (about 2.5 percent of the state budget), Cady said.
"At the same time, we bring in about $146 million each year through fines, fees and the like," he said.
In a state searching for more operating money, it seems increased judicial services would be one source.
Then there is one factor many people may not consider. Cady said studies by the World Bank and U.S. Chamber of Commerce say a strong, independent judiciary can be a "catalyst" for economic growth because companies locate in places governed by the rule of law.
Cady said the $10 million he's seeking would allow staffing clerk of court offices full-time statewide, increase the number of employees in the general judicial work force by 42 and expedite the installation of electronic filings.
Lawmakers said Cady made valid points, and we agree.
Sen. Tom Hancock, D-Epworth, chairman of the Senate Justice Systems Appropriations Committee, said there's no question the judicial branch lacks adequate funding.
House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, said Cady built an argument for a funding increase.
But lawmakers made no promises as budget targets still are being formulated.
"We need to look at the data ...," Upmeyer said, "and we'll see what we can do."
At this point, that's all that can be expected.
But it's clear that the judicial system needs more money. We trust lawmakers will come through so Iowans can be better-served.
- Globe Gazette, Mason City, Jan. 17