2017 CONDITION OF THE JUDICIARY
president, madam speaker, distinguished members of the Iowa General Assembly,
Governor Branstad, Lieutenant Governor Reynolds, state officials, colleagues,
family, friends, and all Iowans.
the chief justice, I come before you this morning on behalf of the judicial branch
to report on the State of Iowa's justice system. I do so knowing this is a time of scarce
financial resources. My hope is my
message will be heard in a way that leaves you, and all Iowans, better informed
about the critical services the Iowa court system performs for Iowans and the
importance of investing in those services.
me begin with a personal story. My
mother was a well-read person. She had a
proverb for every occasion and always expressed it. Her central message was for life to be lived
and for the potential of people to be recognized and achieved. She was cautious by nature but understood the
importance of reaching out to find newer and richer experiences in life. For my slightly older brother, her message
resonated in a way that led him to a life as a national expert on headache care
and the physician instrumental in developing a breakthrough drug for those who
suffer migraine headaches. After
enduring a childhood of my brother's constant and often dangerous scientific
experiments, some with rather spectacular results that may have included
brushes with the law, I found my
mother's message more suitable to a life in
the law and to be part of a justice system devoted to finding newer and richer
justice for all.
as my mother would say, no person is an island.
My brother needed the support of a business willing to make an
investment in an idea and willing to take the risk for his idea to
succeed. It did, and countless people
have benefited. To complete my mom's
poetic expression, for whom does the bell toll, it tolls for thee. In the same way, Iowa's court system needs a
renewed investment so the bell can, once again, toll for all Iowans. Each year, you make an investment in our
court system, and we respond by providing the services Iowans demand and need. Each year, the level of your investment
determines the level of services we provide.
So, let me share with you some information about the work we are doing
and the benefits our court system provides to Iowans.
judges work hard to deliver justice through the decisions they make to resolve
disputes Iowans bring into the courts. But,
our court system advances justice in far more profound ways by the way we improve
the process of justice, or as my mom would put it, by the way we treat
people. In the area of our civil justice
system, we are improving the process of justice by maximizing efficiencies,
using the latest technology, reducing litigation costs, developing judicial
expertise, and addressing other needs of Iowans. In the area of criminal justice, we are
improving the process of justice by treating the offenders who enter the system
in new ways. The results we are seeing,
the results Iowans are achieving, are providing a significant return on your
investment and drawing us closer to our collective goal of justice for all. Let me explain, beginning with the area of
criminal justice and the changes we have made in the way we work with children
who need our help because they had started to engage in criminal conduct.
first priority of our courts is to protect all of Iowa's children. As you know, the judicial branch is
responsible for handling criminal complaints against juveniles and providing services
to juvenile offenders. Eight years ago,
our juvenile court officers developed and integrated a new risk-assessment
analysis to provide targeted services to our moderate and high-risk youthful
offenders. A few years later, you gave
us additional funding to increase the number of juvenile court officers who can
sit and talk face to face with troubled youth.
More recently, our juvenile court officers have adopted a new model of
interacting with youthful offenders that reduces criminal thought patterns and
introduces a type of thinking that leads to better decision-making. This model gives juveniles the tools needed
to confront life-changing challenges.
each of these three events alone may not seem significant, but look at what is
happening in Iowa. Since we started to
make these important changes in 2009, the number of criminal offenders under
the age of 21 entering Iowa's adult prison system has been cut in half. This means 329 fewer young adults went to
prison last year. This is true, measureable
progress. It is the type of progress that
has renewed hope and optimism in our juvenile court officers. It is the type of progress that has given
opportunity to more children and families.
It is a return on investment in our shared commitment to protect Iowa's
programs are also helping our low-risk juvenile offenders. One is the prearrest diversion program for
misdemeanor juvenile offenders. These
court-led programs divert youthful offenders into community programs that bring
together juvenile court officers, school officials, police, community providers,
and parents to correct youthful decision-making before bad decisions lead to a
pattern of more serious criminal behavior. Once juveniles enter the criminal justice
system, they are at risk of never leaving and are often impeded in life by a
criminal record. The recidivism rates confirm the success of this program. In 2015, the Davenport program, for
example, diverted 177 of the 227 youth charged with simple misdemeanor crimes,
and 84% of the offenders have not reoffended.
In 2016, every youth in the city charged with a simple misdemeanor was diverted
and 93% have not reoffended. These
outcomes far exceed those of juveniles formally charged and dealt with in a
traditional court setting. As my mom
would say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
high success rate is primarily due to two factors. The first is that diversion
classes promote family participation, focusing on an evidence-based,
corrective-thinking curriculum. It is
leading to new and beneficial conversations and positive interactions within
families. The second factor is that this
program is less confrontational, and juveniles see it as fair. The program promotes positive adolescent
brain development at an important time in life and helps eliminate negative
attitudes towards the law and authority figures that can be imprinted for life.
This program is keeping youthful
offenders out of the criminal justice system, giving them a second chance with
an opportunity for a clean slate, and it is working.
programs across the state are making similar contributions. In Waterloo, juvenile court officers created
a program to provide positive male role models for at-risk African-American
male youth to help them make better choices when faced with issues such as
gangs, violence, drugs, bullying, incarcerated parents, and grief. The program is called "Tomorrow's Leaders"
and operates in five Waterloo schools with thirty students participating in each
school. Just as other communities are
asking for prearrest diversion programs for their children, other area schools
want this popular program expanded. The
successes achieved in one community should be experienced by children in all
continue to improve our adult criminal justice system consistent with our
priority to protect all Iowans by implementing components into our courts that lead
to problem solving instead of incarceration.
The judicial branch invests in 47 specialty courts that seek to address
and resolve problems of drug addiction, mental health, and domestic abuse, as
well as problems veterans may face upon return from war. These courts take on the name of the problem
that lies behind the criminal conduct.
They are drug courts, mental health courts, domestic abuse courts, and
veterans' courts. These courts often use
the leverage of incarceration but work to solve underlying issues through treatment
teams that include a judge, substance abuse treatment professionals, attorneys,
and private agency providers.
the new juvenile court processes, these courts are helping to keep individuals who
are committed to overcoming the cause of their criminal acts from entering prison.
Instead of going to prison, graduates
leave with a job, a support system, and a far greater opportunity to succeed in
I also want to report on the continued success of
family treatment courts. In the past 9 years,
our 12 family treatment courts across the state have reunited 860 families who
were on the brink of being shattered by the termination of parental
rights. We have kept 1,667 children together
with their parents and given these parents the tools to provide children with
opportunities they never thought existed.
All of these improvements to the process of justice
enhance the quality of life in Iowa by expanding opportunities for success and
transforming more people into productive citizens. The stories of individual success confirm the
value of our efforts and inspire us to do more.
But there is also another benefit we do not talk about enough—a
financial benefit. Consider the savings from
avoiding the high cost of incarceration.
When 329 fewer young adults go to prison, taxpayers save more than $11
million. Likewise, when our juvenile
court officers provide early treatment of youthful offenders, taxpayers save $5.8
million. The services provided by our
family treatment courts can avoid an additional $4.9 million in costs per year to
the state's general fund. These three programs
alone generate close to a $22 million annual return on investment. But, this data is really only the tip of the
iceberg. Other programs, such as adult
drug courts, provide even more savings. Just think, the demands on the state's budget
are reduced, and all Iowans benefit when, instead of going to prison, our
programs pave the way for these Iowans to go to work every day, earn paychecks,
support families, and contribute to communities.
The judicial branch also continues to
address the needs of Iowans with your investment in the civil justice system. As a part of our priority to provide faster
and less costly resolution of legal disputes, we assembled a family law task
force to identify better statewide practices for resolving difficult divorce and
child custody matters. We are
implementing several recommendations, including uniform temporary custody hearings
and a pilot project for an informal family law trial process. As with our highly
successful expedited civil action process, we anticipate that the informal
family law trial pilot project will resolve cases faster and more efficiently
while saving Iowans expenses and legal fees.
In addition, we recently established a permanent state
commission dedicated to expanding access to civil justice for Iowans. This commission will foster collaboration
among legal services providers and seek to find new and innovative ways to
promote access to justice for those Iowans who cannot afford an attorney or
those who choose to represent themselves. The courthouses across this state and in your
communities must always be available to protect the fundamental right of all
Iowans to seek redress for legal disputes.
Access to justice could not be more important to our way of life, and we
must work to help ensure all Iowans have access to courts when the need for our
Like the criminal justice system, the improvements we are making to the
civil justice system do not just benefit court users. These improvements also benefit the overall
economic development in Iowa. A fair and
efficient court system gives businesses confidence to invest and to provide for
the well-being of their employees. Today,
your Iowa civil justice system is recognized by businesses across the country to
be one of the very best in the nation. The
U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks it as the fourth best in the country, with
consistently high rankings in the categories of judges' impartiality and
competence. Iowa's own business leaders
have stressed the importance of a fair and efficient court system to their
business development. They believe courts are a key infrastructure component necessary for the growth
and survival of any Iowa business. An
investment in the civil justice system is an investment in the economic
security of this state.
The Iowa Judicial Branch first introduced business practices
into the administration of justice 45 years ago in an effort to improve the
delivery of legal services to Iowans. The
judicial branch now incorporates the best business practices available into our
venerable principles of law to deliver justice in far better ways than in the
past. Over the last 14 years, this
system of court administration has been led by State Court Administrator David
K. Boyd. Over his career, David has helped
six chief justices lead Iowa in modernizing our courts, providing services to
Iowans, and advancing justice. After 40
years of service to Iowans, David will be retiring in September. Thank you, David, for your invaluable service.
success of any organization comes from having the right people, the right vision
for future success, and the right investment.
The Iowa court system has the right people in
place. Every day in all 99 counties
judges, magistrates, court reporters, clerks, court attendants, juvenile court
officers, IT staff, and other dedicated professionals strive to provide Iowans
the services needed from their court system.
You know some of these people because they are your neighbors and
constituents. Each believes deeply in
justice for all and is committed to helping the court system find innovative
ways to serve more and more Iowans.
The Iowa court system has the right
vision for future success. Our vision is
not only to administer justice, it is to advance justice. Our vision is not just to reduce the number of
young adults going to prison, it is to expand juvenile diversion courts to
every county. Our vision is not just to
operate 47 specialty courts, it is to operate as many specialty courts as
Iowans call for to meet all their needs.
Our vision is not just to leverage advances in technology, it is
specifically to improve and upgrade our jury management system for the 21st
century, to build an online conservatorship reporting system with auditing
safeguards that will protect the assets of our most vulnerable populations, and
to build disaster recovery protection for our first-in-the-nation online court
filing system. Our vision is not just to
recognize judges and magistrates for their work, it is to provide them with
regular salary increases in line with the practices followed by other
successful businesses. Our vision is not
just to increase courthouse security, it is to ensure the safety of all Iowans
in every courthouse and public building. Our vision is not just to continue
constructive approaches to reducing implicit bias and racial disparity, it is
to eliminate them—it is to find ways for all Iowans to be treated justly,
fairly, and equally under law.
Finally, the Iowa Judicial Branch needs the right
investment. It needs a commitment to
invest in the court system to maintain full services to Iowans and continue to
provide a positive return on investment. It needs a financial commitment to maintain
its positive impact in driving a climate of success for our economy. Your investment in the judicial branch over
the last several years has contributed to the successes I have shared with you
today, and it is critical for continued success into the future.
I look to the future because that is
where the positive change we seek today will continue to be found. But, this future is closely tethered to the
ability of the judicial branch to continue to deliver services to Iowans, and problems
are beginning to emerge. In just the
last few months, Iowans have begun to experience a disruption in court services. The state's investment in the court system
for the current fiscal year is not allowing the judicial branch to sustain the
current level of service to Iowans. This signals that our successes cannot be
maintained. It means delays will return. It means efficiencies may be lost. It means specialty courts may be eliminated. It means our troubled youth will see less of
our juvenile court officers. It means part-time
hours may return for courthouses. It
means additional costs may be added to the state's budget. It means less opportunity for Iowa's children.
I have relied on lessons from my mom, and my
brother, to illustrate the services provided by Iowa's judicial branch. I do so because those lessons are common
guideposts woven into all our lives. They
are lessons available to us, too, as we continue to work together to map the
future of our state and to govern as one.
The most powerful component of success comes from
the will to succeed. Where there is a
will, there is a way. The judicial
branch has the will. It is woven from
the understanding of what our services can truly do for the future of this
state and all Iowans. But our will alone
cannot take us to that future.
I am sure it was not easy for my parents to invest
in my brother's insatiable curiosity for science. I know it tested their patience at times and
scared the dickens out of me most of the time.
But difficult times can also stiffen the will to succeed.
The way ahead may be hindered by limited resources,
but the will of Iowans for a fair and impartial justice system that meets their
needs could not be stronger. So, now is
not the time to minimize expectations for the future but to build upon
them. It is the time to build the future
with an investment that affirms the work of the judicial branch, and affirms
the lives of families, children, business owners, employees, and all
Iowans. It is the time to build a future
united by one will to achieve success for all.
Our lasting achievements as a state come from the
grand ideals of our founders, with new ideas built on the lessons of our life
experiences. What we have learned from
the past is that there is a spirit for justice in each of us. It is a spirit seen across the state. It is a spirit that has brought us this
far. It is a spirit that is ready to
take us even further. So, for whom does
the bell toll? It tolls for thee. It tolls for all Iowans.