Chief Justice Mark Cady.

The head of the state court system made a surprise appearance before a legislative committee Tuesday.

“I do so now for the sole purpose of sharing with you my belief that the judicial branch is at a crossroads,” Chief Justice Mark Cady said.

Cady spoke to legislators who will draft next year’s spending plan for the courts. Cady said a $3 million cut to the current year’s budget already has limited access to justice for Iowans — and Cady said without a budget boost for next yaer, things could get worse.

“The level of funding for our courts could result in closing courthouses or reducing the hours at courthouses, layoffs, fewer court services in rural Iowa,” Cady said.

The chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court gives a formal address to legislators each January. Statehouse veterans cannot remember any other chief justice personally testifying before the panel of House and Senate members responsible for drafting the courts’ budget.

(Reporting by Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)