Budget woes compromising administration of justice


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Iowa courthouses are struggling, to say the least.

As part of statewide budget slashes, courthouses in all 99 Iowa counties will close down for 10 days over the next seven months. Employees across Iowa — including those at the Johnson County Courthouse — are also preparing for layoffs, furloughs, and funding reductions.

The proposition to shut down courthouses for 10 unpaid days of leave, coupled with a more-than-likely chance for judicial layoffs, rouses distress. The last thing Iowa’s justice system needs is further cuts, and the move to shut courthouse doors across the state will only save around $4.1 million out of the total $16 million needed to be cut from the court system.

All 1,935 statewide judiciary employees will be forced to participate in the 10 days of leave, which will increase workloads, raise the amount of backed-up paperwork, and force clerks to re-prioritize cases.

Accentuating the pressure forced upon an already undermanned staff — there are 26 employees at the Johnson County Courthouse, when the accepted staffing formula for courts says the office needs 30 — will end up causing greater consequences than expected. Well-maintained local justice systems are of pinnacle importance, regardless of the budgetary ebb and flow of state governments.

Lodema Berkley, the Johnson County clerk of court, told the DI current cuts are the worst since layoffs in 2001.

“They’re not just balancing the budget to get by,” she said. “They’re cutting into the real meat of the department.”

And therein lies the problem. Per Supreme Court order, state courts already experienced two furlough days a month earlier this year, which Berkley said caused paperwork to build up.

State Court Administrator David Boyd said the furlough days were picked specifically to minimize effect on the public. But nine of the 10 closures fall on Thursdays or Fridays, the busiest days for the Clerk of Courts Office in Johnson County. Such a placement will only further spiral our judiciary system into a state of decrepitude.

John Goerdt, deputy state court administrator, said furloughs are one way that judges help balance the budget and that they wanted to help participate in reducing costs.

“We can’t lay off judges,” Goerdt said. Further announcements will be disclosed today.

And the pain won’t stop at furloughs. Even after the days of leave, Gov. Chet Culver’s budget cuts still call for a reduction of the justice department by approximately $12 million. We’re believe that eventual layoffs and severe cuts will straitjacket the efficacy of our county court system, which is already bogged down under backlogged paperwork and a paucity of staffing.

It’s time to re-examine the 10 percent across the board cuts imposed by Culver. Some governmental units, such as the state judiciary system, should not be forced to cut the same amount as others. The budget reductions should be discretionary and dependent upon the importance, value, and current staffing of each department.

If that were the case, the state would soon realize that cutting the needs of an understaffed judicial branch will intrinsically cause more problems than it will solve.

> Share your thoughts! Click here to write a Letter to the Editor.

comments powered by Disqus
Daily Iowan Advertising
Today's Display Ads | Today's Classifieds | Advertising Info

Follow the DI through:


Sponsored Links  
T-Shirt Design  
Insurance Leads Charlotte Web Design
Health Insurance Leads Home Equity Loans
Life Insurance  
Custom Magnets DMI Furniture
Solar Products Custom USB
  Buy a text ad


Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.