January 28, 2010

Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus was cautious in her State of the Judiciary address this year.  She spoke of the overarching concern among Iowans as the reduced access to justice and its effect on individual Iowans and their communities.  She said that the ability of Iowans to receive court services has been reduced, and justice hangs in the balance.  In the past decade, the cost of operating the state court system was cut five times. 

She pointed out that Iowa’s court system operates today with a smaller workforce than it had in 1987, but that the number of cases filed in the courts has increased by 66% and under the current circumstances, the courts must ration access to justice.    She said Iowans cannot afford to ration justice because they need court services now more than ever - abused and neglected children and victims of violence depend on the courts as well as communities, business owners and broken families.  

Ternus stated that justice is not optional; it is a constitutional imperative and that during bad economic times, Iowans need the courts more than ever.  She states that the bottom line is that budget cuts have hit the court services harder than other state functions and more cuts will diminish Iowans’ access to justice.  She said that court officials are exploring opportunities to streamline court services, but changes such as a consolidation of courts would require changes in state law, and the Legislature has not yet implemented any changes.  

In her conclusion, Ternus said that ensuring citizens’ access to justice is a common obligation and duty to society, even in times of financial stress.


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