Iowa may have to close more than 30 courthouses – possibly several in North Iowa – due to budget cuts, state judicial officials said. 

And one of them is Mitchell County, as its board of supervisors have discussed the upcoming budget's impact on their courthouse, which was recently built in 2015.

Mitchell County Attorney Mark Walk offered a simple assessment of the current situation involving possible cuts, and how they might impact his courthouse.

"I know nothing more than what everyone else reads," he said via email.

Mitchell County Supervisor Stan Walk in a letter to the editor published Feb. 4 said he thought his county's court system could be impacted, causing a hardship for residents and possibly a bigger workload for other counties. 

Walk pointed out in his letter that "closing courthouses does not increase the need for workers to process clerk of court items."

"When one considers everything inclusive, the increased costs to local government and the public, there is no savings, but there are substantial additional expenses," Walk wrote. 

Last year, Iowa's judicial system was tasked with then-Gov. Terry Branstad's request to cut $3 million from its budget. Lawmakers said the reductions were the result of a decrease in revenue. 

The reductions caused an unpaid furlough day for all staff except judges and magistrates, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady said in 2017.

Cady also warned at the time status-quo funding would be devastating to a system with more than a 100 vacant positions, due to a hiring freeze. He also noted more than half of Iowa's 99 counties share clerk duties. 

Budget proposals this year call for much of the same. 

Gov. Kim Reynolds has suggested a $1.6 million reduction to the judicial branch. Senate Republicans want the body to trim $4.8 million. House Republicans are still finalizing their budget numbers.

If the Senate Republicans' plan is adopted, State Court Administrator Todd Nuccio said in a Jan. 25 news release the state may have to close more than 30 courthouses across eight judicial districts. 

Since 96 percent of the branch's budget is personnel, Nuccio said its has "no other choice than to close courthouses and eliminate personnel branch-wide."

Closures, which would be indefinite, would be determined by caseload volume in each county, according to Nuccio, which would be shifted to other county courthouses within that judicial district.  

"Providing equal access to justice for all Iowans is a fundamental principle of the Judicial Branch," Nuccio said in a statement. "We will endeavor to fulfill our commitment to this principle subject to the resource limitations placed upon us."

These are all preliminary estimates, and multiple local county attorneys, like Mark Walk, emphasized Monday they're unsure what cuts might actually occur, and how they would impact their respective courthouses. 

Hancock County Attorney Blake Norman said that he doesn't expect his courthouse to close, given his knowledge of the situation.

"This is all kind of moot until we know what the legislators are going to do," he said.

Winnebago County Attorney Adam Sauer also said he doesn't expect his courthouse to close. He believes more of an impact will be on the clerk of court's office in the courthouse, but doesn't know what that might look like.

"Everything at this time is just talk," Sauer said. "I honestly haven’t given it a lot of thought as to what could happen, because we don’t know what is going to happen."

Contact Steve at 641-421-0527 or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.



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