All Iowa Courts Returning To Full-Time Status Sept. 1

By Rod Boshart, Reporter

One of the windows at the Clerk of Courts office at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids was closed in 2009 because of employee furloughs at the courthouse. (Jim Slosiarek/KCRG-TV9)

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By Richard Pratt

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Clerks of court offices in all 99 counties will be back at full-time status and maintain regular weekly hours by Sept. 3 thanks to a $5.7 million boost in funding for the judicial branch approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Terry Branstad, a top court official said Thursday.

“Generally speaking, Sept. 3 we’re going to be back at regular 8 (a.m.) to 4:30 (p.m.) hours Monday through Friday,” said State Court Administrator David Boyd. “We’re pretty excited.”

That would mark the first time since budget cuts hit in early November 2009 that Iowa’s court system would be operating at full strength, he noted. About 29 counties in central and northwest Iowa that have completed electronic updates will be able to provide regular hours on July 15, while the balance of the state – including the Iowa Supreme Court clerk’s office – will resume regular hours Sept. 3.

"For the past two years the Supreme Court has traveled to communities throughout the state to hear oral arguments and meet with Iowans," said Chief Justice Mark Cady. "One message we heard repeatedly is that people expect access to justice, timely resolutions of legal disputes, and help for the children in their communities who are either in a dangerous family condition or in trouble with the law or both.

“With the appropriation approved by the legislature and signed by the governor this year, we can take the next step in reaching our goal of being the best, most advanced, and the most responsive court system in the nation,” Cady added.

Currently, all clerk offices are closed on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 21 offices are closed for additional hours during the work day to enable a smaller statewide workforce to keep up with demands, Boyd noted. About one-fourth of the courthouses keep part-time hours or are closed at more times after a 2009 state budget cut reduced the judicial branch's workforce by 12 percent, he added.

Under the court’s fiscal 2014 budget, clerks of court offices will be open full-time on July 15 in the following counties: Boone, Buena Vista , Calhoun, Carroll, Cherokee, Clay, Crawford, Dickinson, Emmet, Greene, Hamilton, Hardin, Humboldt, Ida, Kossuth , Lyon, Marshall, Monona, O'Brien, Osceola, Palo Alto, Plymouth, Pocahontas, Sac, Sioux, Story, Webster, Woodbury, and Wright. All 100 clerk’s offices will be full time by Sept. 3.

Boyd said the court changes are made possible by a $5.7 million boost in the judicial branch budget included in Senate File 442, bringing the fiscal 2014 spending for Iowa’s court system to $167.7 million that includes additional resources to serve Iowa's troubled youth and their families and more support for judges and magistrates.

Boyd expressed disappointment that lawmakers did not provide money to fund employee salary increases, but he said next year’s general fund allotment will enable his agency to hire up to 82 new employees needed to support full-time operations statewide.

Along with the 3.5 percent yearly funding increase for judicial branch’s operations, lawmakers approved a 4.5 percent boost in salaries paid to Iowa judges effective Jan. 3, 2014, Boyd said.

Boyd said the additional money for the new fiscal year that begins next Monday will support more court recorders, court attendances, law clerk positions, juvenile officers and staff in clerk of court offices needed to operate the statewide system. There may be isolated instances where clerk's offices may be closed over the lunch hour in some smaller counties and some offices may temporarily close in order to cover special circumstances such as staff training or unexpected staff shortages, he noted.

All court users should notice fewer postponements of court dates due to the unavailability of a court reporter, Boyd added. The court’s budget also includes four new information technology positions to help with the implementation of electronic filing in the state – which is completed in about half of the state and is expected to be fully implemented statewide by 2015.

"The future of the Iowa Judicial Branch is bright as we move into a new fiscal year," Boyd said. "The legislature and governor have provided us with the resources we need to focus on delivering accessible, timely and high quality justice."

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