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Furloughs hit Iowa courthouses; concern mounting

Posted at 6:05 PM, Apr 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-13 19:15:59-04

Budget cuts will close courthouse operations across Iowa for a day next month, and make public defenders take 5 furlough days before the end of June.

Notices are posted at the Pottawattamie County courthouse that the public defender’s office will be on a furlough on April 14, May 1, May 26, June 9, and June 26.  The State Public Defender says they had to make up $500,000 and this was the best solution by avoiding layoffs or closing offices.Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber, whose office is funded by the county, says they don’t schedule too many hearings on Friday’s which is when most of the furloughs are scheduled.

“Obviously they've got a budget problem that we're not having to deal with right now since we're in a different system, but again I can see the reason they did that on Fridays is because they knew it would have as little impact on the system as possible,” Wilber explained.

But the judicial hammer will be felt on May 26 when all Iowa courts will be shut down for furlough.  It’s considered the final action to make up $5.5 million in cuts across the Iowa Judicial System.

Clerk of Court in Pott. County Ruth Godfrey says it won’t affect lawyers much but normal citizens who come to the courthouse for personal services.

“Any kind of court you’re used to going to traffic court, coming up and paying your tickets, coming up and paying child support,” Godfrey explained.  “You’ll see there will be no services available period.”

A memo sent Wednesday by the Iowa State Court Administrator indicates the 2018 fiscal year will also be $5.5 million short and that all considerations are on the table including layoffs, fewer hours, and the elimination of specialty courts like drug and mental health court.

Godfrey is very concerned for how much less they may be able to serve citizens.

“I don’t think we have any other choices, to me I think we’re truly looking at reducing hours, or laying off people and furloughs.  I think it could be a combination of all three,” Godfrey concluded.

The Iowa State Court Administrator says 96% of their budget is used to pay employees and they generate about $156 million a year.