A key legislator says another round of court fee increases are likely given the state’s budget situation. Iowa Supreme Court Justice Marsha Ternus delivered a dire message in her annual address to legislators today, saying the court system’s budget has already been pared so much that justice is being “rationed” in Iowa. Ternus and other court system administrators are preparing a list for legislators.
“The kinds of fees that we’re looking at would be fees that would be imposed when someone wants the court to take some particular action,” she says. “Whether it’s the request for an order or it’s the filing of a case or it’s a notice that we send out — imposing a fee for those kind of things.”
Ternus is reviewing court fees in other states to see how Iowa’s compare.
“We do have a lists of those types of fees — kind of court-user fees — that we could discuss with the legislature and hopefully generate revenue that way,” Ternus says. “But you have to be careful that they don’t impede access to justice. You know, there’s a delicate balance there because especially in bad economic times, people can’t afford to pay so we have to be very careful.”
Lawmakers enacted a series of court fee increases last year, boosting the fee for filing for divorce, for example.
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says Ternus made a “compelling case” that the court system needs more resources, but Gronstal also says the “budget reality” is there’s not enough money to go around.
“Last year, we put in place a significant number fees and were able to come up with some additional resources for the courts,” Gronstal says. “So that is certainly something that we’d be willing to look at again.”
Ternus says without additional resources, more Iowans will find it difficult to get access to the courts. According to Gronstal, the access issue is also in play when it comes to considering fee increases.
“Whenever we look at those kind of things we need to keep in the context of what other states have done, what makes sense and the extent to which an additional fee also impacts access to justice in this state,” Gronstal says. “So we want to be careful about that.”
The Iowa Supreme Court’s chief justice says budget cuts are taking a “heavy toll” on Iowa’s court system. Ternus has ordered the courts to close for 10 days this budgeting year. More than 100 employees were laid off and 73 vacant positions have been eliminated.