A task force put together to explore ways to improve and cut costs in Iowa’s legal system has submitted its final report. Iowa Supreme Court assistant counsel, Timothy Eckley, says one of the recommendations is to create a two tiered system.”For a tiered system, you would draw a line at a certain dollar threshold value — say 50-thousand dollars — and cases below the 50-thousand dollar limit might have some streamlined processes built into the litigation process,” Eckley explains. “Whereas cases over the amount -whatever the amount may be — more complex cases could have different procedures in place that would be more suitable to that kind of case.” Another recommendation is to set up courts to handle only business cases.
“The idea is, if you have a judge or panel of judges that are experienced in that kind of law, or dedicated to that kind of case, they can move those cases along more efficiently,” Eckley says. Other recommendations include assigning one judge to one case throughout the process, using more video and teleconferencing to cut costs, and limiting the amount paid to expert witnesses. Eckley says some of the ideas have been tried in Iowa on a pilot basis, and all were taken from other court systems as the panel looked at many possibilities for improving the system. The next step is in the hands of the Supreme Court.
“The court will review the report and make some determinations as to whether there are recommendations in the report that are able to be implemented, whether there are sections of the report that recommend there be more study in a particular area or not,” according to Eckley. He says there’s no timeline set for moving ahead with any of the recommendations at this time, and some of the proposals could be implemented by the courts without any changes from the legislature.
“It depends, some things might be able to be done with court rule, some things might require legislation,” Eckley says.
The Civil Justice Reform Task Force included a 14-member steering committee appointed by the Iowa Supreme Court, and 71 other members representing business, law, labor, medicine, industry and consumer groups. The task force’s report is available on the Iowa Judicial Branch website at: www.iowacourts.gov.