The chief justice of Iowa’s Supreme Court is asking legislators for a $7.2 million boost in the budget for the judicial branch of state government.

“Your justice system provides critical, unduplicated services to Iowans,” Cady said this morning in the annual “Condition of the Judiciary” address to legislators. “…Our future can no longer be about taking small steps or standing still. We need to think big and take big steps.”

Cady would direct a third of his requested increase to a digital initiative, using the money to develop electronic warrants, for example, and start paying for the court’s digital services with taxpayer dollars rather than court fees.

“The age of technology is propelling courts into a new age of justice,” Cady said. “…Our ‘Digital Opportunities’ initiative concerns projects such as….text messages to defendants and other court users…and online dispute resolution.

Justice Cady enters the chamber for his speech.

“…Imagine a time when law enforcement officers will no longer need to drive from the scene of an investigation to a courthouse to request a warrant…Imagine a time when defendants receive reminders of their court dates on their phones so there are fewer delays and fewer adverse collateral consequences for defendants.”

Cady’s also warns lawmakers fewer people are applying to be judges because of the pay. He’s asking for nearly $1.9 million extra to finance a four percent hike in judicial salaries. The other big-ticket item in Cady’s request to lawmakers is for rural courthouses. Cady’s asking for enough funding to hire 37 more full-timers to work in the clerks of court offices.

“The judicial branch is committed to providing full-time, full-service access in all 99 counties,” Cady said.

Cady briefly expressed support for criminal justice reform and he praised Governor Kim Reynolds for appointing an equal number of male and females judges last year.

“Iowa’s judiciary has a strong national reputation for fairness and impartiality,” Cady said. “We should all be very proud of the quality and the changing face of our judiciary.”

The chief justice did not directly mention the discussion among Republicans about changing the membership on the commission that interviews prospects and recommends slates of candidates for openings in the courts.

Key legislators say it will be difficult to provide a sizable increase in the budget for Iowa’s court system.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Representative Gary Worthan, a Republican from Storm Lake who is co-chair of the panel that drafts the courts’ budget. “…We’ve got to balance that off against what the schools need, what Medicaid’s going to take and try and come up with a set of priorities that works for everybody.”

Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, said the court system needs the cash infusion just to keep up with inflation.

“The last two years have been really bad for the judicial branch and all the Iowans who use the judicial branch,” Hogg said, “and remember we don’t always have a choice about whether we want to use the judicial branch or not, so it’s good to have it even if you’re not a regular user.”

Hogg, an attorney whose great grandfather was a member of the Iowa Supreme Court, said the court’s shrinking budget is as much of a concern as pay for judges.

“When judges don’t have the support staff that they need to do a high-quality job and they feel like we’re dealing with messier and messier cases with less and less much support, that’s not a very attractive situation for somebody to say: ‘Hey, I want to become a judge,'” Hogg said.

Worthan said debates over raising judges’ salaries are “always contentious” in the legislature. He’s more concerned about ensuring rural Iowans have access to “specialty courts.”

“You hear some of the stories of the successes in the drug courts and in the family courts and then you look and you say: ‘Well, those aren’t available in some of the rural courthouses,'” Worthan said.

He said that’s not fair to rural Iowans.

(This story was updated at 12:53 p.m. with additional information.)