A bipartisan group of eastern Iowa legislators, lawyers and law enforcement officials staged a statehouse news conference today to complain about cuts in the travel budgets of district court judges.
Esther Dean, a lawyer from Muscatine, is a Muscatine County Supervisor. Dean says she and some of her clients will be forced to drive to a courthouse in Davenport as there’s no district judge living in Muscatine. "I am concerned as an attorney about clients, but I am also concerned about keeping the county courthouse open," Dean says.
Daisy Wingert owns a floral and gift shop in downtown Tipton and she worries about the downturn in traffic in and out of the Cedar County Courthouse in Tipton. "I am very concerned about us losing our courthouse facilities," Wingert says. "There is only so much business that can be demonstrated internally from a community. We do need outside people and I feel that the courthouse is like a magnet, bringing people into town."
Jackson County Attorney Chris Raker of Maquoketa says most district court judges live in urban areas — and the travel restriction mainly hurts rural Iowans. "Iowa is a rural state and no matter how you dress up that pig, it’s still a pig," Raker says.
The travel restrictions on judges apply to civil trials, things like divorces and property disputes. But Representative Nathan Reichert, a Democrat from Muscatine, argues the travel restriction will have an impact on criminal trials, too, as all cases get delayed.
"All of the other pieces of justice continue to grind to a halt in some of these local courthouses when you take a docket or you take basically 20 to 24 days of service a month (and) turn it into 12 either judges not traveling or the combination of that with the furlough days that have been announced, the overall docket gets affected in the local courthouse," Reichert says.
Court officials say there are travel restrictions throughout state government and it would look unusual if the courts didn’t limit employee travel, too. Critics accuse court officials of conspiring to force legislators to provide the courts with more money since rural Iowans are disproportionately impacted by the limits on the travel of judges.
A bipartisan group of eastern Iowa legilsators plans to offer alternatives during debate of bills that apply to the judicial branch budget.