Last week Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady urged lawmakers to embrace hope while planning the future of the courts. We believe his vision of a judiciary using technology to overcome existing limitations of geography and time is necessary for the state to administer justice equally to all Iowans.
“The power of technology has stirred our imagination and allowed us to identify more than 130 critical projects to serve better more Iowans, who are our customers,” Cady noted in his State of the Judiciary address before a joint session of the Legislature — a speech that began with a rare glimpse of Cady as a father and grandfather, crediting technology for his ability to remain connected to his extended family from his rural Iowa home.
“Technology has opened a new world and fortified the eternal hope of all grandparents for life to be better for their children and grandchildren,” he said, pointing to online group chats, immediate photo sharing and two-way video conferencing. “It is the same hope Iowans have always wished for each new generation.”
A Digital Opportunities Initiative begun by the Judicial Branch seeks to streamline time-consuming tasks and bring Iowans closer to the courts they rely on. Projects range from electronic search warrants, which would keep law enforcement officers at the scene of an investigation, to text messages of upcoming court appearances, perhaps lessening adverse consequences for defendants and easing jail burdens. Court reporters and interpreters, always in high demand, could be in more courthouses if they could appear remotely via video. All Iowans would benefit from development of a customer service portal.
“Online dispute resolution has started in a few states with promising early results,” Cady said. “The state of Utah established an online dispute resolution pilot project for small claims cases that substantially reduced the steps needed to resolve a case. It has streamlined the process and made it more convenient for court users. We want to do this same for the 75,000 Iowans who use our small claims courts each year.”
Such technological advances are “propelling courts into a new age of justice” that “will run us over if we do not get up to speed,” he accurately warned.
When combined with other initiatives proposed by the judiciary — projects intended to serve Iowans guiding their own cases through civil courts, assess the value of specialty courts, and remove the arbitrary barriers of county lines — the result will be a more accessible and more efficient court for all.
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And while many of the proposals discussed by Cady carry a price tag, the Judicial Branch is one of the few branches of government with an immediate and positive return on taxpayer investment. Lawmakers learned the $177.6 million appropriated to the courts produced a $179.7 million return in the current fiscal year.
The future the Judicial Branch has proposed is one that will tear down barriers, create new efficiencies in court and local budgets and, most important, best serve the needs of Iowans. We urge lawmakers to embrace it.
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