The Iowa Judicial Branch performs a vital constitutional duty: to administer justice according to law equally to all people. Funding for the services provided by the judicial branch is appropriated by the legislature and approved by the governor. For the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020, the legislature appropriated and the governor approved $181,023,737. This amount is $500,000 less than the FY 2020 judicial branch appropriation.
In making its FY 2021 budget decisions, the Iowa Supreme Court reaffirmed its commitment to Iowa’s community-based court system and constructed a plan that should avoid the need for court closure days, so Iowans will maintain access to justice in all 99 counties. Entering FY 2021, the judicial branch will implement a 2.1% salary increase for all nonjudicial officer employees, continue the hiring freeze on current vacant positions and hold open new vacancies for at least 90 days. The judicial branch will also hold open all judicial officer vacancies occurring during fiscal year 2021 for at least 90 days and restrict travel for the next six months.
Since last March, when the Iowa Supreme Court began limiting in-person services because of the Covid-19 pandemic, clerk of court offices have remained open and judicial officers have conducted face-to-face hearings in criminal and emergency cases that could not be conducted by videoconference or teleconference. Judicial officers have also conducted hundreds of hearings remotely. Despite these efforts, the judicial branch begins the 2021 fiscal year with a large backlog of cases that were postponed because of the pandemic. Once face-to-face services begin again, a new scheduling process implemented to allow for social distancing will slow the traditional daily process of hearing cases. The Iowa Judicial Branch will continue to carefully monitor the public health situation, balancing the need to take measures to reduce the spread of the virus with its commitment to conducting business as necessary.
As the world continues to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic, the judicial branch is resuming face-face-to-face hearings and, later in the fall, jury trials. The backlog and new scheduling process combined with the reduced budget will make the year difficult for everyone using courts services, and parties will need to be patient as their disputes work through the courts. Even with these challenges, the courts remain committed to their communities and will adapt to meet the community’s needs while keeping its citizens safe and continuing to administer justice fairly and impartially to all Iowans.
Summary of FY 21 Budget—Iowa Judicial Branch
FY 21 appropriation (HF 2643): $181,023,737
FY 21 funding is $500,000 less than FY 20. This reduction is found in two places-$102,556 reduction in the line item appropriation and $397,444 in other funds which does not show in appropriations but does show in the balance sheets. In FY 20, DOM transferred $397,444 to the judicial branch to cover the increased fees from the Iowa Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO).
Balancing the FY 21 Budget
Hiring Freeze (as of May 2020)
Takes all open positions as of June 30, 2020 and removes them from the FY 2021 spending plan (budget). All law clerk and court reporter positions have been excluded from this freeze. This list currently includes 47 FTE’s and total salary and benefit projections for these positions are $3,322,005.
Judicial Officer Hold Open
Sets a 90-day time period to hold open each judicial officer opening before being filled. The dollar savings are estimated on the average of the last five years of data for district court judge (DCJ) and district associate judge’s (DAJ) retirements. The average is eight district court judges retiring and three district associate judges retiring. The calculation of the savings per time period chosen is below.
Non-Judicial Officer Hold Open
Sets a 90-day time period for each non-judicial officer opening occurring in FY 21 to be held open. The dollar savings are estimated on the average of the last five years of data for non-judicial officer separations and retirements. The number used in the calculation was 90 positions leaving during FY 21, and estimating the average wage and payroll tax total of $54,266 for contract covered positions for each position.
Furniture & Equipment
Removes all budgeted spending on all equipment and furniture purchases from the spending plan. In FY 2020, we budgeted $277,965 for this purpose. In FY 2021, we will budget $4,500 for this purpose. This will reduce the spending plan by $273,465. All districts were informed that spending on furniture and equipment was not likely in FY 2021 and to utilize funds in FY 2020 to make any purchases that would be needed in the next 12-18 months.
Imposes six months of travel restrictions related to education events for FY 2021: $152,443. Removes all out of state travel from the FY 2021 spending plan for six months: $22,955. No restrictions on travel for normal court business.
Shifts costs away from our general fund appropriation into the jury and witness fund.
Assigns 50% of an accountant/auditor 2 position to the jury and witness fund. An accountant/auditor 2 position currently processes all interpreter claims and this amounts to approximately 50% of their work time. Interpreter costs are paid for from the jury and witness fund. 50% of the accountant/auditor 2 annual salary and benefit cost is approximately $45,000, which will be charged to the jury and witness fund instead of the general fund starting in FY 2021.
Shifts the $57,724 cost of the court interpreter coordinators time to the jury and witness fund for the same reason as above. The jury and witness fund is the source of payment for interpreter related expenses.
Reduces the branch’s expenditures on supplies in FY 2021 by 10%. The FY 2021 spending plan by is reduced by $66,008. Each district will be allocated their amount based on past budgets minus 10% and be held accountable for staying within that threshold.
Court Technology & Modernization Fund
In SF 457, the legislature allocates an additional $ 2 million to the Court Technology and Modernization Fund.
Services Provided by Iowa’s Community Based Court System
ISSUING EMERGENCY PROTECTION ORDERS AFTER HOURS.
To better respond to Iowans seeking help in an emergency outside of regular business hours, a system is being created to allow for after-hours issuance of emergency domestic abuse, sex abuse, and elder abuse protection orders.
MAKING ONLINE PAYMENT EASIER.
To provide Iowans with a more convenient, efficient, and user-friendly payment system, an online “shopping cart” feature was added to allow for payment of multiple fines, fees, and costs in a single transaction.
RESOLVING DISPUTES FROM HOME.
To increase access and reduce disruptions that occur for Iowans involved in certain cases, pilot projects are launching for “online dispute resolution” in small claims, traffic, and landlord–tenant cases.
DIVERTING LOW RISK YOUTH AWAY FROM COURT.
To protect communities, create positive outcomes for juveniles, and save money on costly juvenile detention, juvenile court officers are partnering with law enforcement agencies and service providers to divert youth into community-based programs.
STRENGTHENING PROBLEM-SOLVING COURTS.
To better target the root causes of criminal acts and break the cycle of re-offense, a plan is being advanced to improve support for Iowa’s “problem-solving courts,” which will lay the groundwork to ensure that these courts are effective and their services are made available statewide.
INCREASING EFFICIENCY OF OPERATIONS.
To achieve greater efficiency, balance workload, and create capacity to address workload fluctuations, a new model to distribute court work across geographical boundaries is being tested.
OFFERING EASY-TO-USE COURT FORMS.
To make it easier for Iowans to access the courts, a major effort to create interactive, guided court forms was launched.
ADDRESSING IMPLICIT BIAS.
To ensure all people are treated equally under the law, a more in-depth phase of implicit bias training for judges and court staff is being developed to continue the effort to combat implicit bias.