Chief Justice Cady makes strong case for more court funding

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered the annual Condition of the Judiciary speech to Iowa House and Senate members yesterday. As he did in 2011 and again last year, Cady appealed to lawmakers to fund the judiciary at an adequate level. Highlights from his case are below.

The full text of Cady’s speech to lawmakers is available here. You can watch the video of his remarks at Iowa Public Television’s website or listen to the audio on this page at Radio Iowa. Cady has a more gentle voice than one usually hears in political oratory, but he managed to convey his argument forcefully while speaking quietly. Legislators interrupted his remarks with applause several times.

Cady talked about the many conversations he and other Supreme Court justices have had with Iowans around the state: “civic groups, business organizations, legislators, local leaders, educators, students, and of course, those individuals who work so hard in the judicial branch on a daily basis.” Overall, he is requesting a 3.5 percent increase in the judiciary’s annual budget. He listed the following six key tasks for Iowa courts:

I. Protect Iowa’s Children

Young Iowans who turn to crime, or who must cope with shattered families, or who suffer from daily abuse, represent a tragic failing of our society. They also represent potential expenditures of millions, no billions, of future taxpayer dollars if they end up incarcerated or must be treated for more serious conditions as adults. We save taxpayer dollars when troubled children receive the full and timely services of the juvenile court system. In this critical area, our courts do not just hold juveniles accountable for their actions, we also construct, implement, and monitor a remedy until our assistance is no longer needed. We are not only the emergency room for these struggling children and their families. We are the recovery room and, importantly, the rehabilitation center that follows.

Cady described ways in which juvenile court judges make a difference in children’s lives. He praised Iowa’s “nationally recognized family drug courts that target families with parents who have substance-related disorders.” According to Cady, family drug courts have served 399 families in five years, preventing foster placement for 576 children and saving taxpayers more than $2 million.

But Cady noted that current funding is not enough to keep juvenile courts functioning as needed. This passage drew applause from legislators.

I have visited with juvenile judges and juvenile court officers and learned firsthand that the most important and proven part of their job is to have an early face-to-face conversation with troubled youth. […] We do not have enough juvenile court officers, however, to reach all of our children in need, and too often our first contact with a child is through a letter. That is just wrong. Every child who enters into our system deserves to have at least a face-to-face meeting with an assigned trained juvenile court officer. We know that with early personal intervention more troubled children will be saved from a life of crime and lifted out of a world of heartache.

II. Provide Full-Time Access to Justice

Iowans expect and deserve to have full-time access to justice. […] Currently, all clerk of court offices in Iowa are closed every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. Closures deny access to Iowans, including those seeking commitment of love ones for mental illness and substance abuse and people seeking protection from domestic violence. We have all heard stories about domestic violence victims having to wait for an order of protection because the clerk of court offices are closed. […] The number of adult mental health commitment petitions has grown 45 percent in the last decade, while the number of juvenile commitment petitions has grown 93 percent during the same time. […] In addition, closures slow down the processing of child support checks, liens, garnishments, warrants, and other important matters. These closures should end. Iowans deserve and expect all clerk of court offices to be open every day during business hours.

III. Operate an Efficient, Full-Service Court System

Cady described the Iowa Judicial Branch’s “electronic document management system” (EDMS), which started in Plymouth County in 2010 and has spread to 15 counties. He said the project of creating an “efficient paperless court system” is on track to be implemented in 30 more counties by the end of this year. According to Cady, EDMS helps law enforcement officers, litigants representing themselves, and small business owners as well as court staff and judges.

IV. Provide Faster and Less Costly Resolution of Legal Disputes

Cady noted that “justice delayed is justice denied,” and he has heard from many people in the business community that Iowa courts need to help resolve disputes more quickly.

Technology can only do so much for a justice system. We have learned that potential efficiencies in our court system quickly fall out of reach without sufficient personnel. Too many times, a case must be rescheduled because a judge is without some essential staff to allow the case to proceed. I have personally called lawyers to apologize for this unfortunate circumstance and for the additional costs. In people’s lives, one courtroom delay is one too many. This is not how a justice system should operate, and it is not what Iowa litigants should endure. […]

This leads me to a related point. We are trying to operate our branch of government as any efficient, successful business or organization would operate, and we must pay competitive salaries to our judges and magistrates that reward superior performance, sustain committed service, and compete in the marketplace.

Cady also described two innovations that are intended to mae the court system more responsive. First, there will be a new track “litigants can select that will reduce the costly and time-consuming discovery disputes that often accompany litigation.” Second, they have approved a pilot project to establish business courts “staffed by judges specially trained in the complex issues facing businesses in our modern economy.”

By relocating these complex litigation cases to a separate docket, other civil cases may proceed more efficiently. Additionally, we expect business courts to help all Iowans by contributing an important piece to the new wave of economic confidence in Iowa as a place to grow and prosper.

V. Be Open and Transparent

Cady described innovations in allowing “audio, photographic, and video coverage” of Iowa courts. He said the judicial branch has created a committee of journalists and court users to update the rules for covering the courts, including smart phones and new ways of communicating like blogging amd twitter.

VI. Provide Fair and Impartial Justice for All

Cady reminded legislators that judges decide cases based on the facts, not personal beliefs or public opinion.

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. We must be devoted to fair and impartial courts because it is an important component in our future success as a state.

That was the closest Cady came to alluding to the political battles over retaining Iowa Supreme Court justices since the 2009 decision on same-sex marriage. Iowans voted against retaining three Supreme Court justices up for retention in 2010. However, in 2012 a majority voted to retain Justice David Wiggins and three new justices appointed by Governor Terry Branstad. None of the seven Iowa Supreme Court justices are up for retention in 2014. Cady, Daryl Hecht, and Brent Appel will be up for retention in 2016.

After Cady’s speech yesterday, Iowa House Republican Gary Worthan expressed support for raising court officials’ salaries. He called the move “more than reasonable.”

“We’re looking at a situation where all of our judges and magistrates have foregone any kind of a raise for the last five years so that we could keep as many salaried people employed as we could,” Worthan told reporters after the speech. […]

“The court has been very responsive as far as trying to increase efficiencies and they’ve pushed that I think probably about as far as they can,” Worthan said, “and I think it’s our responsibility to come up with some of the funds that they need.”

Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, told reporters “every penny” spent to steer troubled kids in the right direction saves taxpayers “dollars and dollars” down the road.

“If this state is going to succeed, we need to take care of our kids and stop throwing them in prisons,” Courtney said.

Worthan chairs the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee in the Iowa House. Courtney is vice chair of the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee and chairs the Justice Systems budget subcommittee in the upper chamber.

State Senator Daryl Beall, who like Cady is from Fort Dodge, posted these comments on his Facebook page after the chief justice’s speech.

Chief Justice Mark Cady delivered the most inspiration[al], most eloquent, most persuasive, most reasoned State of the Judiciary I have heard in 11 years. The soft-spoken justice called on the judiciary, the third co-equal branch of government, to be teammates and partners with the legislative and executive branches. He stated the case for more clerks and court reporters. “We must protect our children,” he said. “We must save them from a life of crime and heartache,” as he forcefully and eloquently pleaded for family drug courts and juvenile courts. Justice must be delivered in a faster and less expensive manner, must be open and transparent, and must be accessible, based on merit, free from political influence. I was so proud and pleased to be Justice Cady’s senator.

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