The chief justice of Iowa’s Supreme Court appealed directly to lawmakers today, asking for higher pay for judges. Chief Justice Marsha Ternus delivered the annual “State of the Judiciary” message this morning. She said an important element of ensuring equal justice for all is a “high caliber” judiciary.
“It is imperative that judicial compensation reflect the vital and increasingly difficult role judges play in our society,” she said. According to Ternus, many big corporations make business decisions based on the quality of a state’s judiciary, so she argued paying judges more is partly an economic development issue.
“Lawyers will not be interested in a judicial career if they perceive that the pressures and demands on judges outweigh the benefits of judicial service,” she said. “If this happens, the quality of justice in Iowa will surely suffer and over time the consequences will extend beyond the judicial branch.”
Ternus said there is already a problem with pay for judges, as only three lawyers applied for a recent district court judgeship. She called that as a “shockingly low number” of applicants. On another matter, Ternus expressed concern about giving the public access via the Internet to all court records.
“While broad Internet access to court records will shine even more light on the work of Iowa’s courts which we welcome and support, it will also make sensitive information about countless Iowans available to the merely curious and worse to identity thieves, an unwelcome by-product of the Internet that we cannot ignore and should not facilitate,” Ternus said.
Ternus said open public access to all the personal information in court papers, such as bank account information that is often included in divorce papers, is unwise. “Unconstrained exposure of the details of one’s personal problems that are chronicled in court records would surely discourage Iowans from using the courts or at the very least affect what allegations are made and what evidence is introduced into the record,” Ternus said.
The chief justice has developed scaled back plans for public access to court documents, while continuing on a course to make all court documents available electronically to court staff and the lawyers working on the cases.