"The level of your investment determines the level of services we provide."
Chief Justice Mark Cady
2017 State of the Judiciary
The Iowa Judicial Branch performs a vital constitutional mission: to administer justice according to law equally to all people. For the last two years, the judicial branch requested funding from the Iowa Legislature to maintain its level of services to Iowans. Unfortunately, the legislature's funding of the judicial branch for the last two years has not been enough to provide all of the services Iowans demand and expect from their court system and not enough to achieve the six priorities of the judicial branch. In FY 17, with an $8.5 million deficit in funding, the judicial branch was forced to implement a hiring freeze, hold open judicial vacancies for six months, cut travel by 10%, defer technology projects, and institute a moratorium on the expansion of specialty courts. In FY 18, the hole in the judicial branch budget increased to almost $15 million. That $15 million gap is the amount of funding it would take to provide all of the services that were provided to Iowans just two years ago. For FY 18, however, the legislature did not appropriate enough money to restore those lost services.
This funding situation has required some very difficult decisions to be made for the fiscal year beginning on July 1. All options to balance the budget were considered including layoffs, court closure days, reduction in hours, and the elimination of specialty courts and other programs.
The court has tried to minimize disruption of services to Iowans while still treating judges and judicial branch employees like the valued public servants that they are. The court solicited ideas for additional efficiencies from judicial branch employees and all Iowans. It considered those ideas, along with workload study data, to make decisions regarding the FY 18 budget. The court has also reaffirmed its commitment to the six priorities of the judicial branch, while recognizing that the lack of funding will make it harder to achieve and maintain those priorities.
For FY 18 the court has decided to continue rebalancing staffing levels and resizing the judicial branch primarily through vacancies. As of June 2, 2017, there were 153.88 FTE statewide vacancies, which is 11% of the judicial branch workforce. The judicial branch will continue to keep vacant positions open and only fill the most critical positions in FY 18. The judicial branch will also continue to hold judicial vacancies open for up to twelve months. This means that there likely will be more delays in the resolution of Iowans' legal disputes.
Although Iowa's specialty courts have proven to save the state money, the extra judge time does come at a cost, so the court will continue the moratorium on expansion of specialty courts. The court has directed the state court administrator to work with the various specialty courts to decrease the amount of judge time devoted to specialty courts and to develop a way to phase out specialty courts in FY 19 if there is still a judicial branch budget deficit.
The judicial branch will continue to absorb savings from efficiencies. Iowa no longer has a Clerk of Court for every county. Currently, 62 Clerks of Court supervise the operations of the clerk's offices in Iowa's 100 county courthouses. Additionally, there are 644 clerk's office staff, more than 10% fewer than 10 years ago. The clerk's office performs a wide variety of services for Iowans including assisting citizens with electronic filing of documents; processing and maintaining all documents filed with the court and collecting fines, fees and restitution.
In order to minimize disruption of services with the large number of vacant positions, it is very important to the court to retain experienced employees and judges. The remaining judicial branch employees are taking up the extra work created by vacant positions at all levels of the judicial branch. The judicial branch will increase employee salaries by 1% across the board and provide a 2% step increase for all employees not at the top of their pay grade. In addition, the judges and magistrates will receive a 2.5% salary increase, their first salary increase in four years and only their second salary increase in 10 years. Over 5% of district court judges left the judicial branch last year and nearly 9% more are anticipated to leave in FY 18.
The judges and employees of the judicial branch will continue to provide critical and unduplicated services to Iowans in all 99 counties. The judicial branch will continue to maximize efficiencies and use technology to provide services. However, Iowans can expect a reduction in services through:
- fewer staff to assist with their legal disputes
- delays in the resolution of their legal disputes
- fewer interventions with delinquent youth
- reduced specialty court hours
- delays in implementing technology services such as a juror app, disaster recovery and an online conservatorship reporting system.
State Court Administrator Memos
Iowa Legislative Services Agency FY 2018 Iowa Judicial Branch Operating Budget
Iowa Judicial Branch Appropriation
What Are the Six Priorities of the Iowa Judicial Branch?
The six priorities for the judicial branch shaped from what Iowans have said they expect and need from their courts.
- Protect Iowa's Children. If the judicial branch is going to accomplish any lasting good in Iowan's lives, the branch must begin by bringing lasting good to the lives of our children in need.
- Provide Full-Time Access to Justice. Whether it is children in need, an Iowan, an Iowa Business, or a friends and neighbors who must at some time count on access to court services, it is clear that Iowans expect their government to operate a full-time, full-service, and efficient court system.
- Operate an Efficient, Full-Service Court System. The Iowa Judicial Branch must continuously work to improve access to the courts and make operations more efficient by taking advantage of all innovative and effective processes available.
- Provide Faster and Less Costly Resolution of Legal Disputes. Iowans expect and deserve timely resolution of their legal disputes. The old axiom "justice delayed is justice denied" is more and more true in this increasingly fast-paced world.
- Be Open and Transparent. The strength of democracy requires well-informed citizens. The strength and effectiveness of our court system depends on public confidence in the courts.
- Provide Fair and Impartial Justice for All. Iowa judges make decisions based on the facts of a case and the rule of law, not on their personal beliefs or popular opinion. Allegiance to the law is the very core of the judicial system, embodied in the oath as judges and the rules of ethics, and it is a pledge to all Iowans.
Iowa Judicial Branch Budget Questions and Answers
How Much Money did the Iowa Judicial Branch Collect in 2016?
Each year, with the aid of several state and local government entities, Iowa courts collect millions of dollars in fines and fees that directly benefit state and local government. In fiscal year 2016, the $153.4 million Iowa's courts collected was distributed as follows:
|$101.3 million||Iowa General Fund|
|$18.0 million||Cities and Counties|
|$15.0 million||Prison Infrastructure Fund|
|$5.9 million||Court Technology and Enhancement Fund|
|$4.6 million||Attorney General Victim Compensation Fund|
|$4.6 million||CCU Collection/Third Party Collection Fee|
|Road Use Tax Fund (DOT)|
What was the Iowa Judicial Branch's Return on Investment?
In FY 17, $181.8 million was appropriated to the judicial branch for its operating budget. The estimated annual return on investment is approximately $176.55 million. The chart below details some of the estimates on specific programs involving the work of the judicial branch.
What Percentage of the Iowa Judicial Branch Budget is Personnel?
Where are the Current Vacancies in the Iowa Judicial Branch?
Iowa Judicial Branch Vacancies* (June 2, 2017)
|Budgeted FTEs||Vacant Positions||Clerks of Court and Staff||Court Reporters||Juvenile Court Officers||Juvenile Specialists||Drug Court||District Court Administration|
|Clerk of the Supreme Court||11.6||2.6||NA||NA||NA||NA||NA||NA|
|Court of Appeals||20||0||NA||NA||NA||NA||NA||NA|
|State Court Administration||29||7.5||NA||NA||NA||NA||NA||NA|
*Does not include full-time judicial officers or the 146 part-time magistrates.
**Judicial Branch Information Technology Department
Full-time Judicial Officer Vacancies* (June 2, 2017)
Statutorily Approved Positions
Vacancies in FY 2017
Anticipated Vacancies in FY 2018
District Associate Judge**
*Does not include the 16 appellate court judges or part-time magistrates.
**Includes district associate judges, associate juvenile judges, and associate probate judges.
How Many Cases Were Filed in Iowa District Courts Last Year?
Most cases filed with the Iowa courts do not make headlines, but each one is critically important to the Iowans involved. In addition to the familiar criminal cases and civil legal disputes, there are families in crisis, victims seeking protection, abused and neglected children, and troubled youths, all turning to the courts for help during desperate times of need.
How Many Documents were Filed and Stored Electronically as the Official Court Record?
More than 20 million documents filed and stored electronically as the official court record, requiring more than 4.4 terabytes of storage space.
On July 1, 2015, the statewide implementation of electronic filing in Iowa's courts was complete. Iowans with court cases can file documents using the Internet and view the court docket and court documents for their cases online from an office or home computer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) project began in January 2010 when the first court document was successfully filed electronically in the Plymouth County Clerk of Court Office. During the next five years, the system was gradually implemented across the state.
EDMS gives more and more court users, including law enforcement officers, the Department of Human Services, and hospitals—to name a few—secure, prompt, and easy access to judges, court records, and the court system. Iowa is a national leader and a model of efficiency with the first mandatory electronic filing system, which can also accept paper filings when necessary, in the nation. To date, more than 130,000 people are registered to file electronically.