Judiciary budget cuts hurt county courts

Over the last decade, the Iowa Judiciary Branch has seen continued budget cuts across the board.

Since 2002, the Judicial Branch workforce has been cut by 16 percent. That means clerks of court, court reporters, court attendants, law clerks and other administrators have less funding to do the work they are required to do.

"The daily work has increased over the time that I've been clerk," Manager of Wapello County Clerk of Court Deb Littlejohn said. "However, the staff has decreased. So therefore, the public is the one that suffers because we are unable to help them quite as much as we used to before."

Wapello is one of 33 Iowa counties that has had to cut clerk of court hours and staff members. The county clerk's office in Ottumwa is only open full time on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Littlejohn's staff has also gone from 12 to 13 people a few years ago to around ten. That means the public has to wait longer for paperwork or filing, especially for pro se litigants.

Budget cuts also result in frequent case delays and slower rulings.

"We hope that our performance doesn't impact the public too much," Littlejohn said. "We try to do the best we can, but we do want to make them aware that it is a lot harder to keep that up with the staff shortages."

Littlejohn said that she would like to see funds to restore court staff. An expedited implementation of the electronic document filing system (EDMS) would also help cut back on paperwork. EDMS is scheduled to begin in Wapello County in four years, which Littlejohn says is not fast enough.

"It's very seldom that we have a full staff in the office, and even when we do, it is hard to cover the workload," she said.

The Iowa Judiciary Branch is the only state workforce, excluding legislature, that did not see budget growth from 2002 to 2012.