- Associated Press - Monday, May 11, 2015

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - Hundreds of court clerks in the Iowa Judicial Branch are getting new official duties, in part to replace those lost as Iowa moves to a totally electronic, paperless filing system for records.

But some employees and lawyers are nervous that a possible funding shortfall could lead to layoffs and service cuts in the coming year.

More than 725 court clerks who work in courthouses in Iowa’s 99 counties will be given new job descriptions and titles effective July 1, said court system spokesman Steve Davis.

Their duties are being updated to reflect changes in the way the courts do business, especially the adoption of a paperless, electronic system that requires litigants to file their own court documents. Their new title will be judicial specialists, and they will be expected to play a bigger role in assisting judges in courtroom operations, from jury selection to maintaining courtroom decorum to scheduling hearings, their new job description shows.

One goal is to improve efficiency and service in a court system that has 75,000 court cases filed every year. But even with the revised job descriptions, trial courts that were hit hard by layoffs from deep budget cuts in 2009 “will continue to be understaffed and additional trial court support will continue to be an ongoing need,” Davis said.



Chief Justice Mark Cady has said the computer-based filing system is expected to be implemented in all 99 counties by June 30. As of December, four million documents were filed with the system.

While helping lawyers and others use the electronic system, less of the clerks’ time is expected to be spent managing court records than the past. Many of their other duties will remain, from sending jury duty notifications to collecting court fines.

Davis said that no jobs would be cut because of the revised duties, which were negotiated with a union that represents clerks and other state employees. Any layoffs, furloughs or other service cuts in the coming year would be due to funding levels approved by the General Assembly, he said.

Judicial Branch administrators and supporters have warned in recent days that lawmakers are considering plans that may trigger harmful cuts.

State Court Administrator David Boyd has sought an $8.6 million increase to the branch’s $174.6 million budget for the year beginning July 1, saying it’s necessary to maintain current services while funding health insurance costs and pay increases. The Democratic-controlled Senate trimmed back the increase to $5.5 million. Then last week, the Republican-controlled Iowa House voted to keep the budget at the current level and not provide any new money.

A conference committee met for the first time Monday to try to resolve differences between the two chambers.

Boyd told employees earlier this month that the level of funding in the House budget could lead to cuts that possibly include “layoffs and temporary layoffs of less than 20 consecutive days” and the closure of specialty courts. But he also noted that no plans were finalized and, “We have not nor will we give up hope.” Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, said the flat funding approved in the House reflected the state’s tight budget outlook.

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