A legislator from a small town in eastern Iowa is up in arms over a budget-cutting move that’s saving about $150,000 in the judicial branch of state government. The Iowa Supreme Court’s chief justice has ordered judges around the state to stop traveling for civil trials.
Many businesses across the country are cutting travel budgets, too, but Representative Jeff Kaufmann – a Republican from Wilton — says it’s not fair to Iowa’s rural residents who now have to travel to an urban courthouse for their divorce cases and other civil trials.
"So we’re going to ask our citizens for basic justice to drive, oh, an hour and a half to get that justice?" Kaufmann asks.
Kaufmann accuses Chief Justice Marcia Ternus of trying to create a "firestorm" in rural Iowa so legislators will forward more money to the court system. "This is about leveraging because she knows how fired up people are. You think I’m fired up? That’s just the tip of the iceberg compared to what’s I’m hearing at home," Kaufmann says. "…I believe what the judicial system is counting on is that anger is going to lead to pressure on the legislature to give the judicial branch what they’re asking for in terms of budgets."
Rebecca Colton, a spokeswoman for the chief justice, says travel has been cut in the rest of state government and it would look out of place if the head of the judicial branch didn’t impose travel restrictions on her employees, too.
Colton uses the word "ridiculous" to rebutt Kaufmann’s charge that the courts are trying to create a "firestorm" in rural Iowa so legislators will forward more money to the courts. Colton says state spending is being deeply cut, and curtailing travel is one of many ways the justice system’s budget has been cut.
Judges, by the way, are still traveling to preside over criminal trials and cases that involve juveniles. It’s only civil trials that are affected by the "no travel expense" order.
"Our judges are traveling to hear cases that are constitutionally a priority," says Colton, who is counsel to the chief justice.