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Iowa Press #2813 -- Louis Lavorato, Chief Justice Iowa Supreme Court
Nov. 26, 2000

Dean Borg: THE IOWA SUPREME COURT HAS A NEW CHIEF JUSTICE. WE'LL DISCUSS IOWA'S JUDICIAL SYSTEM AND THE BUSINESS OF THE IOWA SUPREME COURT WITH CHIEF JUSTICE LOUIS LAVORATO ON THIS EDITION OF IOWA PRESS.

Narrator: FUNDING FOR IOWA PRESS HAS BEEN PROVIDED BY FRIENDS OF IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION; BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS; AND BY THE ASSOCIATION OF BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY, THE VOICE OF IOWA BUSINESS, REPRESENTING THE INTERESTS OF OVER 1,500 IOWA BUSINESSES EMPLOYING 300,000 IOWANS. THIS IS THE SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 26 EDITION OF IOWA PRESS. HERE IS DEAN BORG.

Borg: OF IOWA'S THREE BRANCHES OF STATE GOVERNMENT -- THE EXECUTIVE, THE LEGISLATIVE, AND THE JUDICIAL -- IT CAN BE SAID THE JUDICIAL IS THE SILENT BRANCH. WE'RE FAMILIAR WITH THE BUSINESS OF THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH PERSONIFIED BY IOWA GOVERNOR TOM VILSACK, AND THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH REPRESENTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, BUT JUDICIAL IS ANOTHER MATTER. THAT'S BECAUSE, PERHAPS, ITS DAILY BUSINESS ISN'T CONDUCTED IN THE POLITICAL ARENA AND MOST JUDICIAL ISSUES ARE NOT PLAYED OUT IN THE SPOTLIGHT OF INTENSE PUBLIC SCRUTINY. YET, THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM, INTERPRETING AND APPLYING PUBLIC POLICY IN THE IOWA CODE AND, THUS, PROFOUNDLY AFFECTING OUR DAILY LIVES. TODAY ON IOWA PRESS, WE'LL DISCUSS THE STATE OF THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM WITH THE NEW CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE IOWA SUPREME COURT. JUSTICE LOUIS LAVORATO HAS BEEN A JUDGE SINCE 1979, ON THE SUPREME COURT SINCE 1986. HE SUCCEEDS ARTHUR MCGIVERIN AS CHIEF JUSTICE OF IOWA'S SEVEN-MEMBER SUPREME COURT. JUSTICE LAVORATO, WELCOME TO IOWA PRESS. NICE TO HAVE YOU HERE. ACROSS THE TABLE, STATEHOUSE REPORTERS DAVID YEPSEN OF THE DES MOINES REGISTER AND MIKE GLOVER OF THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.

Glover: JUSTICE LAVORATO, IN JUST A COUPLE OF MONTHS, YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO DELIVER A CONDITION OF THE JUDICIARY SPEECH TO THE IOWA LEGISLATURE. GIVE US A PREVIEW. WHAT'S THE CONDITION OF THE IOWA JUDICIARY?

Lavorato: WELL, FROM A FINANCIAL STANDPOINT, IT'S NOT GOOD. FROM A PRODUCTION STANDPOINT, IT HAS BEEN GOOD, BUT WITH THE STEADY -- THE BUDGET, AT THE PRESENT TIME, I THINK WE CAN EXPECT SOME DECLINE IN SERVICES TO THE PEOPLE.

Glover: HOW BAD IS THE FINANCIAL CONDITION OF THIS COURT? WHAT DO YOU NEED FROM THE LEGISLATURE?

Lavorato: IT'S BETTER IN THE WORST FINANCIAL POSITION THAT I CAN REMEMBER SINCE I'VE BEEN ON THE COURT. WE ARE $2.4 MILLION DOWN RIGHT NOW, BEFORE WE EVEN GO INTO THIS SESSION.

Glover: ARE YOU GOING TO NEED A SUPPLEMENTAL?

Lavorato: WE DEFINITELY NEED A SUPPLEMENTAL. WHETHER OR NOT WE GET THE SUPPLEMENTAL IS ANOTHER QUESTION.

Glover: AND HOW LARGE WILL YOU NEED THE SUPPLEMENTAL?

Lavorato: JUST TO GET EVEN, WE NEED $2.4 MILLION.

Yepsen: WHY HAS THIS HAPPENED? WHAT'S CAUSING THESE BUDGET PROBLEMS IN THE COURT SYSTEM?

Lavorato: THERE WAS AN UNEXPECTED, AS I UNDERSTAND IT, INCREASE IN HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUMS. THE COST TO THE STATE WENT UP 17 PERCENT IN JULY. IT WILL GO UP AGAIN ANOTHER 17 PERCENT ON JANUARY 1. OF COURSE, A PORTION OF THAT COST WAS ALLOCATED TO THE JUDICIARY, AND THAT CAUSED THE SHORTFALL.

Yepsen: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO THE AVERAGE IOWAN, MR. CHIEF JUSTICE? WHY SHOULD ANYONE CARE ABOUT THIS BUDGET PROBLEM? WHAT IS IT GOING TO MEAN TO THE AVERAGE PERSON WATCHING US TODAY?

Lavorato: WELL, IT MEANS THAT WE HAD TO BITE THE BULLET AND COME UP WITH SOME EMERGENCY MEASURES TO MEET THE PROBLEM. FOR EXAMPLE, WE HAD TO REDUCE, SIGNIFICANTLY, THE USE OF THE HOSPITAL REFEREES IN THE MENTAL HEALTH AREA. THAT MEANS THAT WORK WILL FALL ON THE SHOULDERS OF DISTRICT COURT JUDGES, DISTRICT ASSOCIATE JUDGES, AND THAT MEANS THAT THOSE JUDGES WILL BE TAKEN AWAY FROM THE USUAL CASES. FOR EXAMPLE, THE CIVIL CASE AREA, THAT WILL BE AFFECTED. JUDGES WILL HAVE TO HEAR THE PRIORITY CASES. OUR PRIORITY CASES ARE JUVENILE CASES, CHILD ABUSE CASES, DOMESTIC ABUSE CASES... CRIMINAL CASES, BECAUSE WE HAVE TO TRY CRIMINAL CASES WITHIN A CERTAIN PERIOD OF TIME, THEY'LL BE DISMISSED. SO THAT MEANS THEY WON'T BE ABLE TO DEVOTE THE TIME NECESSARY TO TAKE CARE OF THE CIVIL AREA, LIKE YOUR FENDER BENDER CASES, BUSINESS LITIGATION CASES, TORT CASES, THOSE KIND OF THINGS.

Yepsen: WILL THIS BE A CASE OF JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED, I MEAN, THAT SOME OF THESE CIVIL CASES WILL GO ON SO LONG THAT PEOPLE MIGHT NOT FEEL THEY'RE TREATED FAIRLY?

Lavorato: I'M SURE THAT FOLKS ARE GOING TO BE AFFECTED AND THEY'RE PROBABLY GOING TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT IT, PROBABLY HEAR AN OUTCRY FROM THE PUBLIC.

Glover: IN DISCUSSING TEACHER PAY, A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY TEACHERS NEED TO BE PAID MORE BUT IN RETURN WE EXPECT MORE FROM THEM. IF THE STATE PUTS MORE INTO THE COURT SYSTEM, WHAT WILL IT GET? WILL PEOPLE HAVE JUSTICE QUICKER AS THE STATE SUGGESTS? WILL JUSTICE BE FAIRER? WILL THE COURT BE MORE OPEN?

Lavorato: WELL, YOU KNOW, WE'RE MAKING A CONCERTED EFFORT RIGHT NOW TO MAKE THE COURTS MORE OPEN. AS FAR AS SERVICE IS CONCERNED, IT'S THE BEST I'VE SEEN SINCE I'VE BEEN ON THE COURT. OUR CASELOAD -- THEY'RE MANAGING THE CASELOAD. THEY'RE DOING A GOOD JOB. ALL OF OUR JUDGES ARE DOING A GOOD JOB. WE'RE KEEPING UP. IF WE GET THE MONEY THAT WE NEED AND THE RESOURCES THAT WE NEED, WE CAN KEEP DOING THAT. MY FEAR IS IF WE DON'T GET THOSE RESOURCES, THEN SERVICES WILL DECLINE?

Glover: HOW DOES IOWA STACK UP TO OTHER STATES?

Lavorato: WE'RE IN EXCELLENT POSITION AS FAR AS THE REST OF THE STATES ARE CONCERNED.

Yepsen: WE'VE GOT AN IMMEDIATE BUDGET PROBLEM WITH THE SHORTFALL, AND A LOT OF AGENCIES OF GOVERNMENT ARE SUFFERING THROUGH THIS TOO BECAUSE OF THESE INSURANCE COSTS. WHAT ABOUT LONGER TERM? DO YOU NEED MORE JUDGES IN THE STATE? WHAT OTHER CHANGES DO YOU SEE OR BUDGET ISSUES DO YOU SEE FOR THE NEXT FISCAL YEAR?

Lavorato: WELL, ALONG THE LINES OF MORE JUDGES, LET ME JUST SAY THAT WE HAVE A STUDY BEING CONDUCTED BY THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR STATE COURTS IN OUR COURT SYSTEM. JUDGES ARE DOING DAILY RECORDS OF WHERE THEY'RE SPENDING THEIR TIME, THAT KIND OF THING. SO WE KNOW WHERE THE WORK IS CONCENTRATED. WE'RE TRYING TO COME UP WITH SOME KIND OF A FORMULA, NEW FORMULA FOR DISTRICT COURT JUDGES AND FOR DISTRICT ASSOCIATE JUDGES. SO WHEN WE GO INTO THE LEGISLATURE, WE'LL BE IN A BETTER POSITION TO TELL THEM WHERE WE NEED THESE JUDGES AND HOW MANY MORE JUDGES WE MIGHT NEED.

Yepsen: WOULD YOU SCRAP THE OLD FORMULA IN FAVOR OF A NEW ONE?

Lavorato: YES.

Yepsen: ARE JUDGES MAKING GOOD USE OF TECHNOLOGY? THIS NOTION THAT WE SEE JUDGES DRIVING ALL OVER THE STATE, GETTING IN ALL THIS WINDSHIELD TIME -- YOU GOT A LAPTOP?

Lavorato: I HAVE A LAPTOP AND I TYPE MY OWN OPINIONS, SO IT'S HELPED ME TREMENDOUSLY. I USED TO WRITE MINE OUT IN LONGHAND. I GOT USED TO USING A LAPTOP AND IT'S BEEN A TREMENDOUS ASSET TO ME AND IT'S BEEN A TREMENDOUS ASSET TO THE JUDGES, BECAUSE NOT ONLY CAN THEY TYPE THEIR RULINGS, THEY CAN USE THE TECHNOLOGY FOR RESEARCH.

Glover: ALONG WITH SCRAPING THE FORMULA FOR DECIDING HOW MANY JUDGES WE HAVE, THEN YOU WOULD LOOK AT SCRAPING THE FORMULA IN TERMS OF WHERE JUDGES ARE PLACED, HOW JUDGES ARE ALLOCATED. HOW WOULD YOU SEE THAT CHANGING?

Lavorato: I DON'T KNOW. I'VE GOT TO SEE THAT REPORT.

Glover: BUT YOU WOULD ASSUME THAT IT WOULD CHANGE AS THE STATE HAS CHANGED WITH MORE PEOPLE IN THE CITIES AND SUBURBS.

Lavorato: WHO KNOWS, THEY MIGHT SUGGEST THAT.

Glover: THE SUPREME COURT MOVE TO HARLAN? [ LAUGHTER ]

Lavorato: I DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT REPORT IS GOING TO SHOW, BUT WE'LL CERTAINLY TAKE ACTION ONCE WE GET IT.

Borg: JUSTICE LAVORATO, DID YOU WATCH THE FLORIDA SUPREME COURT ON TELEVISION THIS PAST WEEK?

Lavorato: JUST BRIEFLY. IT WAS FASCINATING. I THINK IT WAS PROBABLY THE FIRST TIME -- I WAS TELLING YOU FOLKS BEFORE WE GOT STARTED HERE, IT WAS PROBABLY THE FIRST TIME THAT THE NATION AS A WHOLE HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEE AN APPELLATE COURT IN ACTION. I THOUGHT THAT WAS A TREMENDOUS EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE.

Borg: THAT'S MY FOLLOW-UP QUESTION. IS THAT GOING TO HAPPEN IN IOWA?

Lavorato: WELL, YOU KNOW, TELEVISION IN THE COURTROOM IS OLD HAT IN IOWA. WE DON'T HAVE ANY PROBLEM WITH IT.

Borg: BUT NOT THE SUPREME COURT.

Lavorato: WELL, WE ALLOW PEOPLE TO COME INTO -- WE ALLOW CAMERAS IN THE SUPREME COURT.

Borg: BUT WOULD YOU ALLOW LIVE TELEVISION OUT OF THE IOWA SUPREME COURT?

Lavorato: WHY NOT? YOU KNOW, WHY NOT?

Glover: AND WHAT OTHER USES OF TECHNOLOGY CAN YOU SEE?

Lavorato: WELL, YOU KNOW, IN OUR NEW BUILDING, WE HAVE STATE-OF-THE-ART TECHNOLOGY APPLIED. EVENTUALLY, I THINK THAT WE'LL BE ON THE INTERNET. COURT PROCEEDINGS -- IF PEOPLE WANT TO WATCH US, I THINK EVENTUALLY WE'LL MAKE THE DECISION THAT WE'LL GO ON THE INTERNET.

Borg: WELL, IS THAT A WEB SITE THAT YOU'RE GOING TO DO?

Lavorato: WE DO HAVE A WEB SITE AND I'M GLAD YOU MENTIONED THAT BECAUSE I'D LIKE TO GIVE OUR WEB SITE ADDRESS. IT'S WWW.JUDICIAL.STATE.IA.US.

Borg: WHAT'S ON THERE NOW?

Lavorato: WELL, WE DO BASICALLY -- I THINK YOU'RE AWARE OF THIS, MIKE, WE PUT ALL OF OUR OPINIONS ON THE WEB SITE THE MORNING THAT THEY'RE FILED SO PEOPLE CAN DOWNLOAD THEM AND LOOK AT THEM IMMEDIATELY, THE MINUTE THEY'RE FILED. WE USE IT ALSO AS AN EDUCATIONAL TOOL. WE HAVE BIOGRAPHIES OF ALL THE JUDGES IN THE STATE. WE EVEN HAVE PICTURES OF THE APPELLATE JUDGES.

Borg: SO THE PUBLIC GETS AN INSIGHT INTO THE COURT IN THAT WAY.

Lavorato: OH, YES, YEAH. WE'RE VITALLY INTERESTED IN EDUCATING THE PUBLIC ABOUT WHAT COURTS DO, AND YOU'RE GOING TO SEE THAT WE WANT -- WE EMBRACE THE PUBLIC -- WE WANT THE PUBLIC TO KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE JUDICIARY. IN OUR NEW BUILDING, WE'RE GOING TO HAVE AN AUDITORIUM WHERE WE'LL BE USING FILM TO EDUCATE THE KIDS. WE WANT KIDS TO COME TO THIS BUILDING.

Yepsen: MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, JUST HOW OPEN ARE YOU GOING TO BE IN YOUR NEW ERA HERE?

Lavorato: WELL, WHAT DO YOU MEAN HOW OPEN?

Yepsen: WELL, ARE YOU GOING TO LET GLOVER AND I SIT THROUGH YOUR DELIBERATIONS?

Lavorato: NO, NOT QUITE.

Yepsen: NOT THAT OPEN.

Lavorato: NO, NOT THAT OPEN.

Glover: AS YOU MENTIONED, YOU'RE GETTING A NEW BUILDING ON THE STATEHOUSE GROUNDS. WHY SHOULD THE PUBLIC CARE ABOUT THAT? WHAT IS THE PUBLIC GOING TO BE GAINING?

Lavorato: WELL, NUMBER ONE, "WE'RE" NOT GETTING A NEW BUILDING. THIS BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF IOWA, AND WE HAD THEM IN MIND WHEN WE DESIGNED IT, WHEN WE ASKED THE LEGISLATURE FOR THE MONIES TO BUILD IT. SO LET'S KEEP THAT IN MIND. IT BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF IOWA. IT DOESN'T BELONG TO US. WE'RE CARETAKERS.

Glover: DO YOU THINK THE PUBLIC HAS A CLEAR UNDERSTANDING OF THE ROLE OF THE COURT SYSTEM IN THIS STATE OR DO YOU THINK THERE'S MORE WORK TO BE DONE?

Lavorato: I THINK THERE'S MORE WORK THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE. WE'RE GOING MAKE A CONCERTED EFFORT TO DO THAT.

Glover: IN WHAT WAY? YOU'RE OUT HERE DOING THAT; I ASSUME THAT'S PART OF IT.

Lavorato: THAT'S PART OF IT. AS I SAID, OUR WEB SITE HELPS. WE HAVE COMMITTEES ESTABLISHED TO IMPROVE THE COMMUNICATION WITH THE MEDIA. I THINK YOU'RE AWARE OF THAT. AND HOW TO EDUCATE THE PUBLIC... WE HAVE COURT NIGHT DOWN IN POLK COUNTY, FOR EXAMPLE, WHERE WE INVITE THE PUBLIC TO COME IN. THE JUDGES ARE THERE AND ANSWER THEIR QUESTIONS. WE EVEN HAD THE GOVERNOR COME DOWN ONE TIME TO TALK TO THE FOLKS. I WAS ON THE SAME PROGRAM WITH HIM.

Yepsen: MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, I WANT TO SWITCH GEARS AND TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE ISSUES IN FRONT OF THE LEGISLATURE. ONE QUESTION THAT AFFECTS THE COURT IS THE ISSUE OF SENTENCING REFORM. THERE'S SOME PEOPLE IN THE LEGISLATURE THAT THINK WE NEED TO GIVE JUDGES MORE DISCRETION IN MAKING DECISIONS. THERE'S SOME PEOPLE WHO SAY, NO, WE HAVE TO BE FAIR ABOUT THIS, WE NEED TO GIVE THEM LESS. EVERYONE IS SAYING WE NEED TO TINKER AROUND AND CHANGE OUR SENTENCES. HOW DO YOU COME DOWN ON THIS ISSUE?

Lavorato: I DON'T BELIEVE IN ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL TYPE OF SENTENCING. I'M A FIRM BELIEVER IN DISCRETIONARY SENTENCING. I'LL GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE. WHEN I FIRST GOT ON THE BENCH DOWN IN POLK COUNTY, I WAS IN CRIMINAL COURT ON A CRIMINAL CASE. IT INVOLVED A YOUNGSTER, I THINK HE WAS 19 OR 20 YEARS OLD. HE WAS IN THE PROCESS OF -- HE HAD BEEN IN THE PROCESS OF ROBBING A PIZZA HUT. HE WAS ARMED WITH A RIFLE OR SHOTGUN - I CAN'T REMEMBER - AT THE TIME. RIGHT THERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THAT ROBBERY, HE DECIDED THIS WAS NOT A WISE THING TO DO. HE THREW THE WEAPON DOWN. EVENTUALLY, YOU KNOW, HE WAS PROSPECTED, ENDED UP IN MY COURT, CONVICTED OF ARMED ROBBERY. UNDER THE LAW AT THAT TIME, I HAD NO DISCRETION, I COULD NOT GIVE THIS YOUNGSTER PROBATION. I HAD TO SEND HIM TO THE PENITENTIARY. IF EVER THERE WAS A CASE WHERE I WANTED TO GIVE PROBATION, IT WAS TO THIS YOUNGSTER. HE NEVER HAD A CRIMINAL RECORD. HE WAS CLEAN AS FAR AS HIS CRIMINAL RECORD WAS CONCERNED. HE HAD GOOD FAMILY TIES. HE WAS JUST A PRIME CANDIDATE FOR PROBATION.

Glover: SO DO YOU THINK THE SENTENCING LAWS NEED TO BE CHANGED TO GIVE JUDGES MORE DISCRETION?

Lavorato: I DO, YEAH. THIS IS UP TO THE LEGISLATURE. I'M NOT GOING TO WANDER INTO THIS ISSUE. MY RECOMMENDATION WOULD BE, YES. I THINK ANDY MCKEAN WAS ATTEMPTING TO DO THAT LAST SESSION, AS I REMEMBER. BUT THAT FELL. THAT WAS NOT CARRIED.

Glover: AND IT RUNS INTO THE PROBLEM, YOU KNOW, IT RUNS INTO THE LEGISLATURE WHERE THEY LIKE TO LOOK TOUGH. ONE WAY TO LOOK TOUGH IS TO REQUIRE REFORM.

Lavorato: YOU KNOW, WE'RE BUILDING ALL THESE PRISONS. I JUST WONDER HOW MUCH OF THE POPULATION WE'RE GOING TO IMPRISON.

Yepsen: DO WE NEED MORE PRISON CAPACITY IN IOWA?

Lavorato: FROM WHAT THEY TELL ME, THEY DO.

Yepsen: WELL, IF WE DO THE KIND OF SENTENCING REFORM YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT, WHICH IS GIVE JUDGES MORE DISCRETION, HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THE CRITICS WHO WILL SAY, WELL, YOU'LL HAVE ONE JUDGE IN DAVENPORT DOING ONE THING AND ANOTHER JUDGE IN COUNCIL BLUFFS WITH THE SAME SET OF FACTS DOING SOMETHING ELSE.

Lavorato: LET ME JUST TELL YOU... EVERY CASE IS DIFFERENT. YOU CAN'T -- YOU HAVE TO BE IN THAT SENTENCING JUDGE'S SHOES TO UNDERSTAND, AND THE JUDGE HAS STATUTORY CRITERIA THAT HE OR SHE MUST FOLLOW IN DOING THE SENTENCING. THEY MUST CONSIDER THE FACTORS LIKE THE CHANCE FOR REHABILITATION OF THIS INDIVIDUAL; WHETHER OR NOT THAT INDIVIDUAL WILL BE A THREAT TO THE SAFETY OF THE COMMUNITY; THEY HAVE TO CONSIDER THAT INDIVIDUAL'S AGE; THEIR WORK EXPERIENCE; THEIR EMPLOYMENT HISTORY; FAMILY TIES; JUST WHAT KIND OF A CHANCE IS A JUDGE TAKING PUTTING THAT PERSON ON PROBATION. SO IT'S AN INDIVIDUAL CHOICE. IT'S AN INDIVIDUAL SITUATION FOR EVERY CASE. YOU JUST CAN'T GENERALIZE IN THIS AREA.

Yepsen: THERE'S ANOTHER PROBLEM RELATED TO ALL THIS. THAT IS THAT YOU HEAR MANY BLACKS IN IOWA COMPLAIN THAT THERE ARE JUST TOO MANY BLACK FOLKS LOCKED UP IN IOWA'S PRISONS, THAT IOWA HAS ONE OF THE HIGHEST INCARCERATION RATES FOR AFRICAN-AMERICANS OF ANY STATE. I SEE YOU NODDING YOUR HEAD. IS THAT A PROBLEM? WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT THAT?

Lavorato: THAT IS A PROBLEM AND I THINK WE HAD A -- WHEN WE DID OUR EQUALITY COURTS TASK FORCE STUDY, THAT WAS ONE OF THE ISSUES THAT THE TASK FORCE DID, TO MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS. I THINK THAT THERE ARE OTHER TASK FORCES THAT ARE LOOKING INTO THAT NOW AND. YEAH, IT'S A PROBLEM. A LOT OF THAT IS BECAUSE OF THE SOCIO ECONOMIC CONDITIONS, AND WE KNOW THAT. WE'VE GOT TO IMPROVE THE SOCIO ECONOMIC CONDITIONS OF THE MINORITIES.

Glover: ONE ASPECT OF THE WHOLE SENTENCING DISPUTE IS DRUG SENTENCING. SENTENCING FOR ALL DRUG OFFENSES HAS GOTTEN MUCH, MUCH TOUGHER IN RECENT YEARS, AND SENTENCING FOR VARIOUS KINDS OF DRUG OFFENSES HAS DISPARITIES BUILT INTO IT. FOR EXAMPLE, CRACK SENTENCES CARRY MUCH LONGER TERMS THAN COCAINE, WHICH LEADS TO THIS PROBLEM OF BLACK INCARCERATIONS. WHAT ABOUT DRUG SENTENCING? HAVE WE GOTTEN OVERBOARD ON THAT?

Lavorato: WELL, YOU KNOW, WE HAVE THAT 85 PERCENT RULE NOW.

Yepsen: WHAT'S THAT?

Lavorato: THAT IN CERTAIN CASES, AN INDIVIDUAL'S SENTENCE TO THE PENITENTIARY WITH RESPECT TO CERTAIN FELONIES, THEY HAVE TO SERVE 85 PERCENT OF THEIR SENTENCE. WITH RESPECT THE DRUG SITUATION, LET ME SAY THIS: AS I REMEMBER READING IN THE NEWSPAPERS, I THINK CALIFORNIA AND A COUPLE OTHER STATES NOW PASSED REFERENDUMS THAT SAID THAT NONVIOLENT, FIRST-, SECOND-TIME OFFENDERS WOULD BE GIVEN TREATMENT RATHER THAN BEING SENTENCED TO INCARCERATION. I THINK WE NEED TO PROCEED SOMEWHAT ALONG THOSE LINES. I THINK WE NEED MORE PROGRAMS LIKE THAT. WE HAVE THE DRUG COURT NOW AND IT'S WORKING. I'VE BEEN READING THAT THAT'S A SUCCESSFUL PROGRAM. IT'S THE ONLY THING THAT'S BEEN WORKING, REALLY.

Glover: AND I KNOW YOU AREN'T RESPONSIBLE FOR THE STATE'S PRISON SYSTEM, BUT WOULD YOU ACKNOWLEDGE THAT IF YOU SEND A DRUG OFFENDER TO PRISON, IT'S UNLIKELY THAT DRUG OFFENDER IS GOING TO GET ANY TREATMENT AT ALL?

Lavorato: PROBABLY. I THINK THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS HAS THE SAME PROBLEM THAT EVERY OTHER DEPARTMENT HAS -- OUR BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT HAS, AND THAT'S LACK OF RESOURCES.

Yepsen: MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, I WANT TO EXPLORE THIS A LITTLE BIT. I FIND IT INTERESTING THAT THE NEW CHIEF JUSTICE IS SUGGESTING THAT WE MAY WANT TO CHANGE THE WAY WE SENTENCE DRUG CRIMINALS. ELABORATE ON THAT.

Lavorato: THAT'S A REALM -- THAT'S SOMETHING FOR LEGISLAATURE TO DO; THAT'S THEIR BAILIWICK. I DON'T WANT T BE WANDERING INTO THAT AREA. THAT'S UP TO THEM. BUT WHAT I'M SAYING IS THAT SOME STATES HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT THE PROBLEM LONG ENOUGH THAT THEY'RE DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT AND MAYBE THIS IS SOMETHING THAT WE OUGHT TO AT LEAST LOOK INTO.

Yepsen: HAVE THE LEGISLATURE AND THE GOVERNOR LOOK AT THESE?

Lavorato: I KNOW THAT THE GOVERNOR IS VITALLY INTERESTED IN OUR DRUG COURTS. I KNOW THAT HE'D LIKE TO SEE THAT PROGRAM CARRIED OUT STATEWIDE. I'VE SEEN IT IN OPERATION IN POLK COUNTY, AND IT'S A WONDERFUL PROGRAM. I'VE WATCHED THEIR GRADUATION CEREMONIES WHERE THESE PEOPLE HAVE BROKEN LIVES -- THEY GET UP THERE AND TELL THEIR EXPERIENCES AS DRUG ADDICTS AND HOW THIS PROGRAM HAS TURNED THEIR LIFE AROUND. AND AS I UNDERSTAND IT, THEY'RE HAVING SUCCESS WITH THESE PEOPLE, BETTER SUCCESS THAN THE AVERAGE FIGURES OF OTHER CRIMES IN RECIDIVISM. IT'S LABOR INTENSIVE, VERY LABOR INTENSIVE. IT'S JUST A HANDS-ON SITUATION. THE JUDGE HAS TO DEAL WITH THESE PEOPLE ON A WEEKLY BASIS. THEY TAKE -- THEY HAVE DRUG TESTS AND, OF COURSE, IF THEY FAIL THOSE DRUG TESTS, THEY COULD POTENTIALLY END UP GOING TO THE PENITENTIARY. SO IT'S OPERATING IN POLK COUNTY, AND I THINK IT ALSO IS OPERATING IN POTTAWATTAMIE COUNTY NOW, AND UP IN SIOUX CITY.

Borg: HOW DOES THAT OPERATE IN IOWA, AND WHY ISN'T IT MORE WIDESPREAD, THEN, TO HELP OUR VIEWERS UNDERSTAND HOW THIS WORKS? THESE ARE PEOPLE WHO ORDINARILY WOULD BE SENTENCED TO PRISON?

Lavorato: THAT'S RIGHT. THEIR LAST CHANCE. THEY'RE EITHER GOING TO GET THROUGH THIS PROGRAM OR THEY'RE GOING TO THE PENITENTIARY. AND THEY PLEAD AND THEY'RE PUT INTO THIS PROGRAM. IF THEY FAIL THE PROGRAM, THEY END UP IN THE PENITENTIARY.

Glover: IS THIS ONE WAY TO POTENTIALLY AVOID AN EXPENSIVE NEW PRISON CONSTRUCTION?

Lavorato: YES, YES.

Glover: AND YOU THINK IT'S A REALISTIC WAY?

Lavorato: YEAH, BUT YOU KNOW, WE HAVE TO HAVE THE RESOURCES TO DO THIS.

Glover: WHAT WOULD IT TAKE?

Lavorato: I DON'T KNOW. I DO NOT HAVE ANY IDEA OF HOW MUCH MONEY THIS WOULD TAKE. IT'S SOMETHING THAT WE'D HAVE TO STUDY. BUT, YOU KNOW, YOU TAKE A JUDGE AWAY FROM A NORMAL CASELOAD AND PUT THEM IN THE DRUG COURTS, THEY'RE NOT GOING TO BE AVAILABLE TO DO THE OTHER WORK. SO WE NEED THE RESOURCES. IT'S A VALUABLE PROGRAM. I BELIEVE IN IT BUT WE NEED THE RESOURCES TO DO IT.

Glover: ARE THERE STEPS THAT COULD BE TAKEN TO POTENTIALLY PAVE THE WAY FOR A PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING OF THIS PROGRAM, SOME KIND OF A COMMISSION, A COMMITTEE, A TASK FORCE, SOMETHING TO RAISE PUBLIC AWARENESS?

Lavorato: I THINK THAT'S PART OF THE GOVERNOR'S PLAN HERE. I THINK HE'S LOOKING INTO THAT. AND I THINK THAT -- THERE'S A DRUG COUNCIL, WHICH I WAS A MEMBER OF, UP UNTIL ABOUT A MONTH AGO, CAME UP WITH A COMPREHENSIVE PLAN IN JUST WHAT WE'RE GOING TO DO IN THIS STATE AS FAR AS THE DRUG PROBLEM IS CONCERNED, AND THAT WAS ONE OF THE RECOMMENDATIONS, INCREASE DRUG COURTS.

Glover: WHAT'S YOUR SENSE, IF YOU COULD LOOK AT THIS STATE AS A CONTINUUM OR A CURVE AND WHERE WE ARE IN DEALING WITH THIS WHOLE DRUG PROBLEM, DRUG CRISIS, HOWEVER YOU WANT TO CHARACTERIZE IT, IS THERE AN INCREASE? ARE WE PEAKING? ARE WE ON A DECLINE? ARE WE WINNING THIS FIGHT? Lavorato: WHEN I SAT ON THE DRUG COUNCIL, IT HAD PEOPLE FROM THE LAW ENFORCEMENT, PEOPLE THAT DEALT WITH THIS PROBLEM EVERY DAY. FROM WHAT THEY TOLD ME, THE PROBLEM IS CRITICAL. IT'S A CRITICAL SITUATION AND IT'S A CHRONIC PROBLEM AROUND HERE. AND THEY DON'T HAVE ENOUGH RESOURCES TO HANDLE THE PROBLEM. SO I DON'T SEE IT PEAKING. I THINK THAT --

Glover: IT'S STILL ON THE INCREASE?

Lavorato: PROBABLY.

Yepsen: I WANT TO SWITCH GEARS AND GO TO THE ISSUE OF THAT EQUALITY IN THE COURT STUDY THAT YOU MENTIONED A MOMENT AGO. WHEN WE TALKED ABOUT AFRICAN-AMERICANS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM, WHAT ABOUT AFRICAN-AMERICANS ON THE COURTS AND AS EMPLOYEES OF THE COURTS AND WHAT ABOUT WOMEN? ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE HEAR FROM THOSE STUDIES IS THAT THERE AREN'T ENOUGH MINORITY JUDGES AND THERE AREN'T ENOUGH WOMEN JUDGES. WHAT'S BEING DONE ABOUT IT? Lavorato: WELL, WE ENCOURAGE -- I PERSONALLY HAVE ENCOURAGED MINORITIES TO SEEK JUDICIAL POSITIONS, NOT ONLY FOR THE TRIAL COURTS BUT THE APPELLATE COURTS. I THINK THAT -- I THINK THAT'S SOMETHING WE NEED TO DO. WE NEED TO ENCOURAGE MINORITIES TO APPLY.

Yepsen: ARE THERE LEGAL IMPEDIMENTS IN THE WAY OF THEM APPLYING?

Lavorato: NO, NO LEGAL IMPEDIMENTS AT ALL. ALL THEY NEED TO DO IS APPLY AND GO THROUGH THE PROCESS.

Yepsen: WHAT ABOUT SALARIES? QUALIFIED PEOPLE, MINORITIES ARE OFTENTIMES GOBBLED UP BY BIG LAW FIRMS AND CORPORATIONS. DO WE NEED TO BE RAISING SALARIES FOR JUDGES IN IOWA?

Lavorato: YES. THIS IS SOMETHING THAT I THINK THAT WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO LOOK AT. I'D LIKE TO HAVE A BLUE-RIBBON COMMISSION LIKE WE HAD HERE TEN, FIFTEEN YEARS AGO WHERE GOVERNOR BOB RAY WAS ON THAT COMMISSION, SOME HIGH-POWERED LAWYERS WERE ON THAT COMMISSION, SOME LAY PEOPLE. SOME FOLKS THAT WERE ON THAT COMMISSION RECOMMENDED A SALARY INCREASE FOR JUDGES -- BIG SALARY INCREASES FOR JUDGES; GOT IT UP TO THE POINT WHERE IT SHOULD BE. I THINK WE'RE AT A POINT NOW WHERE WE NEED TO DO THE SAME THING.

Yepsen: ARE WE SLIPPING AGAIN?

Lavorato: YEAH, I THINK THAT WE ARE PROBABLY SLIPPING AGAIN AND I THINK THERE'S A TIME THAT WE NEED TO LOOK AT IT -- TAKE ANOTHER LOOK AT IT.

Glover: GIVE US A SENSE OF SORT OF THE AURA AROUND THE STATE COURT SYSTEM. IF YOU WERE A MINORITY MEMBER AND YOU FOUND YOURSELF ENTWINED IN IOWA'S COURT SYSTEM, WOULD YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE THAT YOU WERE GOING TO BE TREATED FAIRLY?

Yepsen: I WOULD LIKE TO THINK OUR JUDGES ARE FAIR, AND I HAVEN'T HAD ANY INDICATIONS THAT WOULD LEAD ME TO BELIEVE OTHERWISE. I'M CURRENTLY TRAVELING TO ALL THE DISTRICTS AND, ALL EIGHT DISTRICTS, I'VE VISITED FOUR OF THEM. I KNOW A LOT OF THE JUDGES AND I HOPE I GET TO MEET THE REST OF THE JUDGES THAT I DON'T KNOW. I'M MAKING A PERSONAL EFFORT TO DO THAT AND GET AN UNDERSTANDING OF HOW THEY THINK AND WHAT'S ON THEIR MINDS AND THAT KIND OF THING. I HAVEN'T SEEN ANY INDICATION THAT WE GET JUDGES THAT BASICALLY ARE UNFAIR, AND WE'VE GOT SOME THAT ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS IN THAT RESPECT, BUT I JUST HAVEN'T SEEN THAT.

Glover: YOU'RE THE NEW CHIEF OF AN IOWA SUPREME COURT THAT HAS SEVEN MEMBERS, SO I'LL HESITATE IN ASKING YOU HOW THAT'S GONE BECAUSE YOU'VE BEEN DOING IT FOR ALL OF TEN DAYS NOW. BUT IF SOMEONE ASKS YOU TO DESCRIBE THIS COURT, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE IT? IS THIS CONSERVATIVE COURT? A LIBERAL COURT? AN ACTIVIST COURT?

Lavorato: I DON'T THINK YOU OUGHT TO PUT ANY OF THOSE KIND OF LABELS ON OUR COURT. I THINK OUR COURT TAKES A CASE, LOOKS AT IT, AND DECIDES HOW THIS CASE OUGHT TO BE DECIDED, WHAT THE LAW SAYS. WE TRY TO FOLLOW THE LAW, DO THE BEST JOB WE POSSIBLY CAN WITHOUT ANY AGENDA. WE DON'T HAVE ANY AGENDAS IN THAT COURT. THAT WOULD STICK OUT SO CLEARLY IF YOU HAD AN AGENDA. YOU HAVE VERY INTELLIGENT PEOPLE ON THAT COURT. WE'D INSULT THEIR INTELLIGENCE IF YOU WOULD INDICATE THAT YOU HAD SOME KIND OF AN AGENDA THAT YOU WANTED TO CARRY FORTH.

Glover: DEAN MENTIONED EARLIER THE FLORIDA COURT. THERE WAS A LOT OF DISCUSSION WHEN THEY WERE CONSIDERING THAT CASE OF HOW THEY DECIDE THINGS. HOW DOES THIS COURT DECIDE THINGS? IS THERE A COLLEGIAL ATMOSPHERE?

Lavorato: OH, VERY COLLEGIAL. WHEN I FIRST CAME ON THE COURT, I WAS A NEWCOMER AND I WANTED HELP. ANYTIME I WANTED HELP, I GOT THE HELP, AND IT'S THE SAME WAY TODAY. WE HELP EACH OTHER. WE RESPECT EACH OTHER. WE HAD SOME HOTLY CONTESTED CASES, BUT AT THE END OF THE DAY, FOR EXAMPLE, DURING COURT WEEK, WE'LL GET OUT AND HAVE A COURT PARTY, A COURT DINNER WHERE WE GET TOGETHER AND FORGET ABOUT THE BATTLES THAT WE HAD, SOCIALIZE, AND HAVE A GOOD TIME. WE'RE ALL FRIENDS. IT'S SUCH A PLEASANT ATMOSPHERE. Yepsen: I HAVE A QUICK FOLLOW UP TO THE PAY RAISE QUESTION I WAS ASKING EARLIER. ANY IDEA OF HOW MUCH IS NECESSARY TO GET SALARIES? I KNOW YOU WANT A COMMISSION TO LOOK AT THIS, BUT DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA -- ARE YOU LOOKING AT 10-PERCENT INCREASE? LARGER THAN THAT? WHAT SORT OF PAY RAISE ARE WE LOOKING AT?

Lavorato: I WOULD EVEN HESITATE TO TRY TO ANSWER THAT. I THINK WE NEED TO GET MORE FACTS AND DO SOME COMPARISONS IN THAT --

Borg: WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES IF YOU DON'T GET THAT PAY RAISE? ARE YOU LACK IN GETTING GOOD QUALITY JUDGES INTO THE SYSTEM NOW? WE TALKED ABOUT MINORITIES AND ATTRACTING THEM, BUT WHAT DO IOWANS GET FOR THEIR DOLLAR IN INVESTING IN HIGHER SALARIES FOR JUDGES, OTHER THAN JUST EQUITY AND FAIRNESS?

Lavorato: WELL, I WOULD HOPE THAT HIGHER SALARIES ARE GOING TO ATTRACT -- AND I FEEL CONFIDENT THIS IS SO -- THAT THEY'RE GOING TO ATTRACT LAWYERS THAT WOULD BE HIGH QUALIFIED FOR THE BENCH. YOU WANT HIGHLY QUALIFIED JUDGES, PEOPLE TO APPLY FOR THESE POSITIONS. IF THESE HIGHLY QUALIFIED PEOPLE ARE MAKING MUCH MORE THAN THE JUDGES ARE MAKING, HOW ARE YOU GOING TO ATTRACT THEM?

Yepsen: MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED FOR? YOU'RE JUST STARTING OUT IN YOUR TENURE HERE? WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS? WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACCOMPLISH DURING YOUR TENURE?

Lavorato: YOU KNOW, THAT'S A GOOD QUESTION. I'VE BEEN WORKING ON THAT WITH MY STAFF. WE'VE BEEN COMING UP WITH IDEAS AS TO HOW TO REALLY MOVE THIS THING ALONG AND BE PROGRESSIVE. I'M IN THE FORMULATING STAGE RIGHT NOW.

Glover: IOWA HAS A JUDICIAL RETENTION SYSTEM, YOU KNOW, LIKE A QUALIFICATION SYSTEM. IS THAT A GOOD WAY TO PICK JUDGES. IS THERE ANY NEED FOR CHANGES IN THAT AT ALL?

Lavorato: IT'S THE BEST SYSTEM THAT WE COULD COME UP WITH. JUDGES ARE SELECTED ON THE BASIS OF MERIT. THEY'RE NOT POLITICIANS. THEY DON'T HAVE TO GO OUT AND CAMPAIGN. WE HAVE THIS BIG PROBLEM IN CAMPAIGN FINANCING. THEY DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THAT. THEY HAD THE JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE NECESSARY TO MAKE FAIR DECISIONS. LET ME GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE ABOUT ELECTING JUDGES VERSUS JUDGES SELECTED ON THE BASIS OF MERIT AS WE DO HERE IN IOWA. TAKE, FOR EXAMPLE, THE JUDGE WHO HAS TO GO OUT IN A STATE AND CAMPAIGN AND SEEK FUNDS TO FINANCE HIS OR HER CAMPAIGN. WHERE DO THOSE FUNDS COME FROM? THEY COME FROM, PROBABLY, LAWYERS; RIGHT?

Glover: RIGHT.

Lavorato: SO YOU GET TWO LAWYERS IN YOUR COURTROOM, YOU'RE LOOKING DOWN, AND ONE OF THEM HAS CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR CAMPAIGN AND THE OTHER HASN'T. Borg: JUSTICE LAVORATO --

Lavorato: WHAT KIND OF A POSITION IS THAT GOING TO PUT A JUDGE IN?

Borg: JUSTICE LAVORATO, I'D RETAIN YOU IF I COULD, BUT IT DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY. ON OUR NEXT EDITION OF IOWA PRESS, OUR FOCUS RETURNS TO THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH OF IOWA GOVERNMENT. JOINING US, REPRESENTATIVE DICK MYERS OF IOWA CITY, CHOSEN BY HIS FELLOW DEMOCRATS TO BE MINORITY LEADER IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. WE'LL DISCUSS THE EMERGING DEMOCRATIC AGENDA FOR THE 2001 LEGISLATIVE SESSION CONVENING ON MONDAY, JANUARY 8, NEXT SUNDAY AT NOON ON STATEWIDE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION. AND A REMINDER TOO THAT IOWA PRESS IS NOW ON THE WORLDWIDE WEB. THE ADDRESS IS WWW.IOWAPRESS.IPTV.ORG. WHEN YOU CLICK IN, YOU'LL FIND TRANSCRIPTS OF PAST EDITIONS OF IOWA PRESS AND MORE. THAT'S IT FOR THIS WEEK'S EDITION OF IOWA PRESS. I'M DEAN BORG. THANKS FOR JOINING US TODAY.

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