Iowa Chief Justice seeks more money for state's judges, support staff

Cady also pushes to expand state's specialty courts

Mike Wiser
Published: January 15 2014 | 2:40 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:08 am in
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DES MOINES — Iowa Supreme Court Justice Mark Cady asked lawmakers for money to expand specialty courts and for a 4.5 percent increase in judges’ pay Wednesday.

Cady focused much of his 34-minute State of the Judiciary speech to a joint session of the General Assembly on the importance of courts serving as protectors of the young.

“We know what works to help at-risk children. We also know the goal of protecting Iowa’s children is within reach,” Cady said. “And we all know what it means for Iowa’s future to achieve this goal. We are committed, in every individual case, to break the cycle of juvenile delinquency that leads to broken homes and adult incarceration.”

The pledge earned him his first of seven standing ovations from lawmakers.

Cady drew specific attention to the federally funded family treatment courts, which will lose federal assistance this summer.

“One problem we face, today, is that our family treatment courts are sprinkled across the state and can only help a fraction of Iowa’s troubled parents and at-risk children,” he said. “Even as federal funding is about to run out, more and more people are asking us to expand family treatment courts into their communities.”

There are six federally funded pilot sites in Iowa counties: Cherokee/Ida, Linn, Polk, Scott, Wapello and Woodbury. Family courts in Webster, Buena Vista, Warren, Johnson and Washington/Keokuk counties were started by local officials at various times during the past five years.

They handled some of the 6,521 domestic abuse cases, 11,252 marriage dissolution cases involving children and 6,414 paternity cases handled by the Iowa court system in 2013.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said Cady was right to focus on juvenile crime in his speech and he thinks there is support for a pay increase.

“We worked closely with them last year to kind of get them half of what they asked for," he said. "I think we are very much inclined to try and get them the other half.”

Judges received a 4.5 percent increase last year after several years of no increase in salary. District court judges have a base pay of $137,000 a year. Appellate judges make $147,900, and justices on the Supreme Court make $163,200.

State Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, who chairs the House judicial appropriations committee, said the salary issue deserves study.

“In the greater scheme of things, yeah, I think we’ve been able to do some things with the contract and non-contract employees in the courts system,” he said. “The indicator is following the number of applications in the court system for the last few years. It’s going down pretty significantly.”

Cady also said he wanted to work with the Legislature to address the over-representation of African-Americans in the state prison system.

“It’s clearly an issue,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "We have, clearly, a disproportionate number of African-Americans in our prison system population-wise."

Hogg said he’s looking at legislation this year that would address some of the disparity. A 2009 Iowa Department of Human Rights report, for example, showed that minorities make up 15 percent of the state’s juvenile population, but they account for 45 percent of the youth in Iowa’s detention facilities.

“It’s not just a matter of sentencing,” Hogg said. “It’s education, service programs, jail diversion programs, it’s the whole battery of policy options that we need to deploy on it. I don’t think we can do something comprehensive on it this session, but I’m hoping there are some pieces we can do.”

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