Iowa wants to firmly yank its court system into the 21st century.
In his annual Condition of the Judiciary address last month, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady pushed for a series of technology investments. Cady told lawmakers that technology is “propelling courts into a new age of justice,” and he announced several new digital initiatives, including an online dispute resolution system and more videoconferencing in the state’s court system, as many other localities have done.
The Iowa Judicial Branch wants an additional $7.2 million to fund them, which would amount to a 4 percent increase over the $177 million the judiciary received for the budget year ending June 30, 2018, according to local TV station Fox 28.
“We simply can no longer proceed into the future thinking it will be a modest linear extension from where we are today,” Cady said. “Imagine how my grandchildren will someday read a bedtime story to their grandchildren. New tools and a new understanding of our transforming world truly create an opportunity to do what we could not have previously imagined.”
Iowa’s court system, he said, must “think big and take big steps.”
Iowa Plans for New Digital Court Investments
In Cady’s address, he noted that “the power of technology has stirred our imagination and allowed us to identify more than 130 critical projects to serve better more Iowans, who are our customers.”
The court’s digital plan contains projects such as electronic search warrants, text messages to defendants and other court users, remote court reporting and interpreting, and online dispute resolution.
Cady noted that online dispute resolution has started in a few states with “promising early results.” For example, Utah in the fall of 2018 set up an online dispute resolution pilot project for small claims cases that “substantially reduced the steps needed to resolve a case. It has streamlined the process and made it more convenient for court users.”
Iowa wants to do the same for the 75,000 Iowans who use the state’s small claims courts each year, according to Cady.
“Imagine an online process that will allow Iowans to resolve some of their legal disputes without taking time from work to go to the courthouse,” he said. “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 because judges will be able to transmit search warrants to officers in their vehicles.”
Under the program, defendants would receive reminders of their court dates on their phones “so there are fewer delays and fewer adverse collateral consequences for defendants who miss appearance dates.”
Iowa hopes to establish a pilot project on online dispute resolution in one or two counties this year, and Cady said he is hopeful the pilots can be launched this year, according to local TV station WHOTV.
Cady acknowledged that the programs will require investments. “Obviously, some of these projects and proposals are going to take some additional funding, but I think the vision is what can drive us there and I hope we've started that discussion today,” Cady said.
The judicial branch estimates that in fiscal year 2019 it will deliver a $2 million dollar return on investment for the money they appropriated. Cady hopes implementing more tech initiatives will save more money for taxpayers and lead to greater ease of access for Iowans, WHOTV reports.