DES MOINES — Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady urged lawmakers to think big and “focus on where we are going, not where we have been.”
In his ninth Condition of the Judiciary address to Iowa legislators Wednesday, Cady said the Judicial Branch is embracing the concept of continuous improvement that has served successful, multigenerational Iowa family businesses.
“The Iowa way to is improve continuously,” Cady told a joint session of the House and Senate with Gov. Kim Reynolds and other state officials present. “It is a plan, with each step taking us forward to the next, with each step as important as the next,” Cady said. “Our future can no longer be about taking small steps or standing still. We need to think big and take big steps. Every day, we must seek to achieve what can be imagined.”
Cady laid out a vision for a state court system embracing technology to deliver more services more effectively. He is calling for five new initiatives addressing rural courts, digital opportunities, access to justice, child protection and problem-solving courts, and a 4 percent salary increase for Judicial Branch employees. Overall, the cost would be $7.2 million and require 37 additional positions.
He also pointed out that the $177.6 million the Legislature appropriated for the current fiscal year produced a return on investment of $179.7 million in fines ($147 million) juvenile diversion cost avoidance ($12.6 million), fewer young adults entering prison ($10.8 million), specialty court cost avoidance ($5.6 million) and family treatment court cost avoidance ($4 million).
He also spoke of Iowa’s leadership in using technology to improve the operation of the justice system “and justice itself.
“Few understood the benefits and value of a paperless court system when it launched 10 years ago,” Cady said.
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The Digital Opportunities Initiative Cady proposed would include projects such as electronic search warrants, text messages to defendant and other court users, remote court reporting and interpreting, and online dispute resolution.
The cost of legal services is preventing many Iowan with legal problems from obtaining the services of a lawyer, Cady said. His Access to Justice Initiative would help self-represented Iowans provide the information for a judge to adjudicate their disputes.
The Problem-Solving Courts Initiative would use technology to collect, track and analyze data from the Judicial Branch’s 39 specialty courts. That would enable the courts to use the data to identify and develop statewide best practices.
The Rural Courts Initiative would expand the court system’s presence in 99 counties and allow it to operate more efficiently by removing artificial barriers that prevent a clerk in one county from assisting people in another county.
The Judicial Branch is committed to maintaining a physical presence in all 99 counties, Cady said.
“We see technology as a way to strengthen rural Iowa,” he said. “Justice is a community responsibility and a system of justice needs every community.”
Based on recommendations from the Council of State Government, Cady wants nearly $900,000 to improve internal and external coordination of juvenile services, write uniform policies that are consistently applied statewide and use data-driven decision-making to improve outcomes for children in the justice system.
Not all of the changes to the court system are technological. In 2018, a new justice joined the Supreme Court for the first time in 7.5 years and the process of replacing a second justice is underway. In addition 18 judges retired.
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There is value in that transition, Cady said, as “they are moving us closer to achieving greater diversity.” Last year, the number of male and female judges appointed was equal.
Cady didn’t mention discussion among some lawmakers about changing the way Supreme Court justices are a selected through a merit-based nominating process done by representatives of the legal industry and the public.
However, he did thank “those who serve on the judicial nominating commissions and Gov. Reynolds for their commitment to selecting the best people to serve as judges.”
“Iowa has a strong national reputation for fairness and impartiality,” Cady said.
Cady’s remarks can be found at www.iowacourts.gov.
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