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Iowa Press #2918
January 4 and 6, 2002

Borg: THERE ARE CHALLENGES AND ISSUES FACING IOWA'S COURTS, AND RESOLUTION IS PROVING DIFFICULT. WE DISCUSS THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF IOWA GOVERNMENT WITH SUPREME COURT JUSTICE LOUIS LAVORATO ON THIS EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS."

Narrator: FUNDING FOR "IOWA PRESS" WAS PROVIDED BY "FRIENDS" OF IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION; AND BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS; AND BY THE ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF IOWA... THE PUBLIC'S PARTNER IN BUILDING IOWA'S HIGHWAY, BRIDGE, AND MUNICIPAL UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE.

STATEWIDE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION IS CELEBRATING THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF "IOWA PRESS," NOW SERVING THE STATE AS IOWA'S LONGEST RUNNING NEWS INTERVIEW PROGRAM. WITH THIS WEEK'S EDITION OF "IOWA PRESS," HERE IS DEAN BORG.

Borg: GENERALLY, THE ADMINISTRATION OF IOWA'S COURT SYSTEM DOESN'T MAKE HEADLINES. WE PAY ATTENTION TO THE PEOPLE INVOLVED IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM, BUT NOT TO THE SYSTEM ITSELF. BUT IN RECENT WEEKS THAT CHANGED. IN AN EFFORT TO ECONOMIZE AND ADMINISTER JUSTICE MORE EFFICIENTLY, A FAR-REACHING REORGANIZATION PLAN IGNITED INTENSE DEBATE. PROPOSALS SUGGESTING THAT IOWA GET ALONG WITH FEWER CLERKS-OF-COURT IN IOWA'S 99 COUNTY COURTHOUSES WAS THE HEART OF THAT MATTER. THE PLAN HAS BEEN PUT ON HOLD, AT LEAST FOR THE TIME BEING. BUT IN STRESSED ECONOMIC TIMES, THE EFFICIENCY GOAL REMAINS. AND THERE ARE OTHER ISSUES: COURT SERVICES, COURT ACCESS, OVERCROWDED PRISONS, MANDATED MINIMUM SENTENCES WRITTEN INTO LAW BY THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH OF IOWA GOVERNMENT - ALL ISSUES REMAINING. LOUIS LAVORATO IS NOW IN HIS SECOND YEAR AS CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE IOWA SUPREME COURT, AND HE JOINS US TODAY TO DISCUSS THOSE AND OTHER ISSUES. MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, WELCOME TO "IOWA PRESS."

Lavorato: THANK YOU.

Borg: WELCOME BACK TO "IOWA PRESS." YOU'VE BEEN HERE BEFORE.

Lavorato: RIGHT.

Borg: AND ACROSS THE TABLE: "DES MOINES REGISTER" POLITICAL COLUMNIST DAVID YEPSEN AND "ASSOCIATED PRESS" STATEHOUSE REPORTER MIKE GLOVER.

Glover: MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, YOU DID, AS DEAN MENTIONED, ANNOUNCE A REORGANIZATION PLAN FOR THE STATE'S COURT SYSTEM. WHAT WAS YOUR GOAL WITH THAT REORGANIZATION PLAN?

Lavorato: WELL, THE GOAL WAS TO COME UP WITH A PLAN TO DELIVER SERVICES IN THE MOST EFFICIENT, COST EFFECTIVE WAY. YOU KNOW, WHEN WE HAVE THESE KIND OF SITUATIONS THAT WE'RE IN RIGHT NOW, IT KIND OF FORCES YOU TO TAKE A LOOK AT YOURSELF AND JUST SEE WHAT YOU CAN DO TO DELIVER SERVICES BETTER, MORE EFFICIENTLY. AND I THINK WE OWED IT TO THE TAXPAYERS TO DO THAT.

Glover: WAS IT STRICTLY A MONEY-SAVING PROPOSITION, OR WERE YOU TRYING TO COME UP WITH BETTER DELIVERY SERVICES AS WELL?

Lavorato: WELL, YOU ASKED ME LAST TIME WHAT KIND OF A VISION I HAD FOR IOWA. WELL, I THINK THAT THIS PLAN PROBABLY FIT THAT BILL.

Yepsen: MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, WHY DID YOU FOLD? YOU LAID THIS PLAN OUT. THERE WAS A LOT OF CONTROVERSY, BUT THERE WERE ALSO A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT SUPPORTED YOU.

Lavorato: I UNDERSTAND.

Yepsen: I HEAR FROM LEGISLATORS AND THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE THAT THE CHIEF JUSTICE FOLDED TOO QUICKLY. WHAT WAS YOUR THINKING IN SAYING -- IN BACKING OFF OF THIS PLAN?

Lavorato: WELL, YOU'VE GOT TO UNDERSTAND, I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE THAT MAKES THE DECISION. WE'VE GOT SIX OTHER JUSTICES ON THE COURT, AND WE HEARD FROM THE PEOPLE. YOU SHOULD HAVE READ MY E-MAIL, MY LETTERS, PHONE CALLS I GOT. THERE WAS JUST SO MUCH OPPOSITION TO IT. WE HAD LOCAL FOLKS, LOCAL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS COMPLAINING THAT IF WE DID THIS, IT WAS GOING TO HARM THEM AS FAR AS SERVICES WERE CONCERNED, IT WOULD BE COSTLY FOR THEM. WE HEARD FROM -- THESE ARE THE FOLKS WE HEARD FROM. WE DIDN'T HEAR TOO MUCH FROM FOLKS THAT WERE IN SUPPORT OF IT.

Borg: YOU HEARD FROM THE GOVERNOR. HE CAME OUT AND SUPPORTED IT --

Lavorato: I UNDERSTAND.

Borg: -- THE OTHER SEGMENT OF GOVERNMENT. HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?

Lavorato: WE TOOK ALL THAT INTO CONSIDERATION, THE COURT DID. BUT I THINK THE COURT JUST FELT THAT THE PEOPLE HAD SPOKEN, AS FAR AS THEY WERE CONCERNED. WE WERE THERE TO LISTEN.

Glover: LET'S GET A LITTLE PROACTIVE HERE. THAT'S IN HISTORY. THAT'S BEHIND US. THAT'S BEEN OUT THERE AND IT'S GONE NOW. WHAT IS YOUR PLAN B? LIKE THE REST OF STATE GOVERNMENT, YOU'RE LOOKING AT A 4.3-PERCENT ACROSS-THE-BOARD BUDGET CUT, A BUDGET FOR NEXT YEAR THAT DOESN'T LOOK VERY HAPPY. WHAT'S PLAN B?

Lavorato: WELL, RIGHT NOW MY BIGGEST CONCERN IS '03. THEY'VE HAD OVER $500 MILLION IN INCREASED SPENDING, ROUGHLY. WHOMEVER YOU TALK TO, ANYWHERE FROM $40 MILLION TO $70 MILLION IN NEW MONEY. SO IT DOESN'T TAKE A ROCKET SCIENTIST TO FIGURE OUT WE'VE GOT A BIG HOLE IN '03. THAT'S MY BIG CONCERN. WE CANNOT AFFORD ANY MORE CUTS IN THE JUDICIAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT, AND WE'VE JUST GOT TO DIRECT OUR EFFORTS TO CONVINCE THE LEGISLATURE. WE JUST CAN'T AFFORD TO TAKE ANY MORE CUTS.

Glover: WHAT HAPPENS IF THEY COME IN AND SAY, "WE JUST DON'T HAVE THE MONEY, MORE CUTS ARE COMING." WHAT HAPPENS TO THE COURT SYSTEM?

Lavorato: IT'S GOING TO PUT US RIGHT ON THE BRINK IN THE CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS.

Yepsen: WELL, MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, LET'S EXPLORE THAT FOR A MOMENT. YOU'RE NOT JUST SOME OTHER STATE AGENCY. YOU'RE A COEQUAL BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT. I RECALL OTHER STATES WHERE THE COURTS, WHEN THEY WERE PINCHED VERY HARD BY THE GOVERNOR AND THE LEGISLATURE, ACTUALLY ISSUE COURT ORDERS TO PAY BILLS IN ORDER TO KEEP THAT BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT OPERATING. TWO BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT CAN'T PICK ON A THIRD, AS I REMEMBER. WHERE ARE WE HEADED HERE? ARE WE HEADED TO THE POINT WHERE YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO BE ISSUING ORDERS TO THE STATE TO PAY YOUR BILLS?

Lavorato: THAT HAS GOT TO BE THE ABSOLUTE LAST RESORT. I JUST DON'T SEE US GETTING TO THAT POINT. I THINK WE'VE GOT LEGISLATIVE LEADERSHIP THAT UNDERSTAND -- UNDERSTANDS THAT THAT'S NOT THE PLACE TO HEAD TO.

Yepsen: WHAT'S YOUR LONG-TERM VIEW, SIR, OF HOW WE'RE GOING TO DELIVER COURT SERVICES IN IOWA? I MEAN IF WE CAN'T DO THE GETTING RID OF CLERKS' OFFICES, GIVE US SOME IDEA OF THE LONG TERM.

Lavorato: THE IDEA RIGHT NOW -- AND BY THE WAY, I WANT TO MAKE THIS VERY CLEAR. THE IDEA OF COURT SERVICE CENTERS, CONSOLIDATION OF CLERKS' OFFICES IS DEAD. AS FAR AS OUR COURT IS CONCERNED, IT'S DEAD. SO WE HAVE TO GO ON TO SOME OTHER WAY OF DELIVERING SERVICES. IT MIGHT NOT BE THE BEST WAY. WE MAY NOT HAVE THE KIND OF SERVICES THAT PEOPLE ARE USED TO HAVING IN THE PAST. WE'RE GOING TO TRY TO MANAGE WITH WHAT WE HAVE, AND WE'RE GOING TO TRY TO DO MORE WITH LESS.

Yepsen: AND WHAT MIGHT THAT BE? ARE WE LOOKING AT CLERKS' OFFICES THAT ARE OPEN FEWER HOURS?

Lavorato: LESSER HOURS, JUST DEPENDING ON THE COUNTY ITSELF AND HOW BUSY THAT COUNTY IS. WE'RE GOING TO LIMP ALONG HERE FOR A WHILE. WE'RE GOING TO MANAGE JUST TO SEE HOW WE'RE DOING. I'M LOOKING AT THE BRIGHT SIDE. THIS ECONOMY HAS TO IMPROVE SOMEWHERE DOWN THERE. WE CAN'T BE IN THIS ECONOMY SITUATION FOREVER. IT'S GOT TO IMPROVE.

Glover: DO YOU THINK -- YOU MENTIONED THE DEGREE TO WHICH THE COURTS ARE SUFFERING FROM BUDGET CUTS. DO YOU THINK POLICYMAKERS OF THIS STATE, THE GOVERNOR AND THE LEGISLATURE, UNDERSTAND THE KIND OF STRESS YOU'RE UNDER? DO YOU THINK YOUR MESSAGE HAS GOTTEN THROUGH TO THEM?

Lavorato: THEY UNDERSTAND. IN MY TALKING WITH LEGISLATIVE LEADERSHIP, THEY UNDERSTAND PERFECTLY THE SITUATION THAT WE'RE IN. THE GOVERNOR UNDERSTANDS. I'M TALKING TO HIM FREQUENTLY, AND I'M TALKING WITH LEGISLATIVE LEADERSHIP FREQUENTLY. THEY BOTH UNDERSTAND THE KIND OF PRESSURES WE'RE UNDER, AND I HOPE THAT THEY UNDERSTAND TO THE POINT IN THIS SESSION THAT THEY CANNOT -- ABSOLUTELY CANNOT CUT ANY FURTHER INTO OUR BUDGET.

Borg: THERE'S A PHRASE THAT YOU USED THAT I'M NOT UNDERSTANDING. IT WOULD BRING US, IF THERE ARE ANY FURTHER CUTS, TO THE BRINK OF A CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS. WHAT IS THAT?

Lavorato: THE SAME THING THAT MIKE -- DAVID WAS TALKING ABOUT.

Borg: WHAT IS THAT?

Lavorato: CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS, IF THE COURT CAN'T DELIVER SERVICES AS THEY'RE CONSTITUTIONALLY MANDATED TO DO AND YOU'RE ABSOLUTELY CRIPPLED AND POWERLESS TO DO ANYTHING TO DELIVER THOSE SERVICES, THEN THE COURT HAS WHAT'S CALLED INHERENT POWER TO ORDER GOVERNMENT TO PAY. IN SIMPLE TERMS, ORDER THE TREASURER, FOR EXAMPLE, TO WRITE A CHECK. AND I DON'T WANT TO EVER SEE THAT HAPPEN. I DON'T WANT TO EVER GET INTO THAT SITUATION.

Yepsen: YOU SAY YOU'RE TALKING WITH THE GOVERNOR AND WITH THE LEGISLATURE -- LEGISLATIVE LEADERS ABOUT THIS PROBLEM. YOU SEEM TO THINK THAT THEY HAVE SOME UNDERSTANDING OF IT. WHAT -- BEYOND SHORTER HOURS IN CLERKS' OFFICES, CAN YOU GIVE US ANY IDEA OF WHAT ELSE YOU'RE LOOKING AT DOING TO BE MORE EFFICIENT?

Lavorato: WE -- THERE'S GOING TO BE A PROPOSAL, I THINK, TO CUT THE NUMBER OF CLERKS -- WHEN I SAY CLERKS, I'M TALKING ABOUT THE OFFICIAL NUMBER OF CLERKS FROM 99 DOWN -- REMOVE THE MANDATE TO HAVE 99 CLERKS. KEEP THE COUNTIES OPEN IN ALL 99 COUNTIES, BUT NOT HAVE 99 CLERKS, PER SE. TRY TO GET THE SUPERVISORY RATIO DOWN, LIKE THEY'RE DOING IN THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT, AND HAVE MORE FRONT-LINE WORKERS.

Yepsen: ONE OF THE THINGS THAT I HEAR PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT WITH THE COURT SYSTEM IS, "GEE, IF WE HAVE ALL THIS FINANCIAL SHORTFALL AND THINGS ARE TIGHT, WHY ARE WE BUILDING A NEW JUDICIAL BUILDING IN IOWA?"

Lavorato: IT'S UNFORTUNATE THAT WE'RE RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF CONSTRUCTION WHEN WE'RE PROBABLY IN THE WORST FINANCIAL SITUATION THAT WE'VE BEEN IN SINCE THE STATE TOOK OVER COURT FUNDING. THAT'S BEEN TWENTY YEARS. WE STARTED PLANNING THIS THING FOUR YEARS AGO. APPROPRIATIONS WERE MADE -- THE APPROPRIATIONS THAT WERE MADE IN FOUR STAGES, THEY'VE BEEN COMPLETED. THE THE MONEY COMES FROM AN INFRASTRUCTURE FUND, AS YOU WELL KNOW: GAMBLING MONEY, TOBACCO MONEY. THERE'S A RESTRICTION ON THE USE OF THAT MONEY. IT CANNOT BE USED FOR OPERATIONS. EVEN IF THE COURT WANTED TO TAKE THE MONEY DEVOTED TO THAT BUILDING TO SPEND ON OPERATIONS, BY LAW WE COULD NOT DO THAT.

Yepsen: WHY DO YOU FEEL YOU NEED THE BUILDING IN THE FIRST PLACE? WHAT WAS YOUR THINKING?

Lavorato: WELL, THE LEGISLATURE CAME TO US. WE DIDN'T GO TO THE LEGISLATURE. THE LEGISLATURE CAME TO US AND WANTED US TO MOVE. AND WE AGREED TO HAVE A SPACE STUDY DONE WITH WHAT OUR NEEDS WERE, AND THAT KIND OF THING. WE SAID, "OKAY, WE'LL MOVE."

Borg: I'D LIKE TO MOVE US INTO SOME SPECIAL ISSUES HERE. THERE WAS A PROGRAM AND IS A PROGRAM, IT'S A COURT-APPOINTED SPECIAL ADVOCATE FOR JUVENILES. AND YOU PROPOSED DOING AWAY WITH THAT, EVEN THOUGH IT DEPENDS UPON -- YOU'RE SHAKING YOU'RE HEAD NO, SO I'M APPARENTLY RIGHT.

Lavorato: NO, NO, YOU'VE GOT THAT ALL WRONG. I DID NOT PROPOSE THAT WE DO AWAY WITH THAT PROGRAM. IT'S A WONDERFUL PROGRAM. IT WAS NOT A PROGRAM, THOUGH, THAT WAS CONSTITUTIONALLY MANDATED OR STATUTORILY MANDATED AS FAR AS OUR REQUIREMENT TO DELIVER COURT SERVICES. WE HAVE OTHER CORE FUNCTIONS THAT WE HAVE TO PERFORM. IT BECAME A MATTER OF PRIORITY. DO YOU KEEP "CASA" IN THE ORGANIZATION WHILE AT THE SAME TIME REDUCING THE NUMBER OF FOLKS YOU'VE GOT IN CLERKS' OFFICES, FOR EXAMPLE? IT JUST CAME TO THAT -- THAT WAS THE KIND OF DECISION THAT WE HAD TO MAKE. SO WHAT WE DID, WE CUT THE "CASA" PROGRAM OUT OF OUR BUDGET, ENCOURAGED THE LEGISLATIVE LEADERSHIP TO FIND A HOME FOR IT. AND IT WAS -- THE CUT WAS TO GO INTO EFFECT JANUARY 3. I AGREED WITH LEADERSHIP TO POSTPONE THAT ANOTHER MONTH SO THEY COULD FIND A HOME, AND I'VE ENCOURAGED THEM. I'VE GIVEN LEGISLATIVE LEADERSHIP IDEAS ON HOW TO COME UP WITH MONEY TO FUND THAT PROGRAM. AS I UNDERSTAND IT, THEY HAVE FOUND A HOME FOR IT.

Yepsen: THEY'RE GOING TO PUT IT WITH THE STATE OMBUDSMEN. IS THAT ACCEPTABLE AND APPROPRIATE?

Lavorato: IT'S ACCEPTABLE FOR US AND I'M SO HAPPY THAT THEY'VE DONE THAT. THAT ORGANIZATION DOES A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF GOOD AS FAR AS KIDS ARE CONCERNED. JUVENILE COURT JUDGES LOVE THAT PROGRAM, AND WE LOVE IT.

Glover: THERE'S A SUGGESTION THAT THE STATE CREATE WHAT'S CALLED A FAMILY DOCKET TO DEAL WITH DOMESTIC TYPES OF CASES AND RELIEVE THE PRESSURE ON THE REST OF THE COURT SYSTEM. TALK ABOUT THAT A LITTLE BIT.

Lavorato: THAT WAS TRIED -- YEAH, THAT WAS TRIED MAYBE TEN YEARS AGO, AND IT DIDN'T PAN OUT. I DON'T FAVOR SOMETHING LIKE THAT.

Yepsen: WHAT IS THE CASELOAD SITUATION? BOTH YOU AND YOUR PREDECESSORS, I KNOW, HAVE COME UP THERE AND TALKED ABOUT THAT IT CONTINUES TO RISE, WE NEED MORE JUDGE POWER.

Lavorato: YOU KNOW, WE'RE DOING A GOOD JOB MANAGING THE CASELOAD TRIAL-COURT WISE. WE HAD A BACKLOG IN THE SUPREME COURT. WE'VE GOT A PLAN TO GET THAT TAKEN CARE OF. WE'RE WORKING THROUGH THAT BACKLOG AND WE'LL GET IT DONE. WE'LL GET THE TIME SHORTENED AS FAR AS APPEALS ARE CONCERNED. BUT WE'RE IN PRETTY GOOD SHAPE COMPARED TO THE REST OF THE NATION. WE'RE DOING -- OUR TRIAL JUDGES ARE DOING AN EXCELLENT JOB.

Glover: THERE HAS BEEN A SUGGESTION THAT THERE IS SOMETHING OF A BRAIN DRAIN ON THE BENCH, THAT IT'S GETTING MORE AND MORE DIFFICULT TO FIND TALENTED, QUALIFIED LAWYERS WHO ARE WILLING TO GO ONTO THE BENCH. ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THAT?

Lavorato: WE'VE GOT EXCELLENT FOLKS ON THE BENCH. AND I AM WORRIED THAT IT'S BECOMING MORE AND MORE DIFFICULT TO GET QUALIFIED LAWYERS TO COME ONTO THE BENCH. IT IS GETTING MORE DIFFICULT.

Glover: WHAT'S THE SOLUTION TO THAT? DO YOU HAVE TO PAY THEM MORE?

Lavorato: YOU HAVE TO PAY THEM MORE; THAT'S THE BIG THING. YOU JUST HAVE TO PAY THEM MORE AND MAKE THE JOB MORE ATTRACTIVE. YOU KNOW, WITH THE COURT FINANCIAL SITUATION THAT WE'RE IN, I'M SURE THE LAWYER IS LOOKING AT THAT SITUATION AND SAYING TO THEMSELVES, "I DON'T KNOW IF I WANT TO GET INTO THAT SITUATION OR NOT."

Glover: WELL, YOU SAY YOU HAVE AN AUDIENCE UPSTAIRS, THAT THEY UNDERSTAND THE KIND OF BUDGET PROBLEMS YOU HAVE. DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE AN AUDIENCE UPSTAIRS THAT UNDERSTANDS THE NEED TO COMPENSATE JUDGES MORE?

Lavorato: PROBABLY NOT IN THIS ENVIRONMENT. I THINK THE ECONOMY WILL HAVE TO GET BETTER BEFORE THEY'LL GET SERIOUS ABOUT DOING THAT. BUT, YOU KNOW, I KEEP REMINDING THEM THAT IF YOU WANT US TO HAVE A FIRST-RATE JUDICIAL SYSTEM, YOU'VE GOT TO HAVE GOOD JUDGES.

Borg: HOW MUCH MORE PAY?

Lavorato: HOW MUCH MORE PAY? I DON'T KNOW. I THINK THAT'S GOT TO BE STUDIED. I THINK WE NEED A TASK FORCE -- A BLUE RIBBON TASK FORCE, I THINK, LIKE WE HAD ABOUT FOURTEEN OR FIFTEEN YEARS AGO. THERE WERE SOME EXCELLENT FOLKS ON THAT TASK FORCE THAT CAME UP WITH SOME RECOMMENDATIONS, AND I THINK THAT'S WHAT WE NEED TO DO. WE JUST HAVE TO HAVE -- HAVE THEM STUDY IT AND DETERMINE JUST WHERE THAT SALARY LEVEL OUGHT TO BE.

Yepsen: WHO APPOINTS THAT? WOULD YOU APPOINT THAT? WOULD YOU GOVERNOR APPOINT IT? DID YOU WORK TOGETHER WITH THE THREE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT?

Lavorato: I THINK IN WORKING WITH THE GOVERNOR AND THE LEGISLATURE, ALL THREE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT, I THINK WE COULD COME UP WITH A TASK FORCE. I THINK THIS OUGHT TO BE A BIPARTISAN EFFORT.

Yepsen: MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, TECHNOLOGY. YOU HAVE BEEN A REAL ADVOCATE FOR USING MORE TECHNOLOGY, TRYING TO SOLVE SOME OF YOUR PROBLEMS WITH GREATER TECHNOLOGY. I'VE BEEN INSIDE THAT NEW BUILDING OVER THERE. IT'S FULL OF ALL KINDS OF CONDUIT FOR TECHNOLOGY. WHAT DO THESE BUDGET CUTS DO TO YOUR EFFORTS TO BECOME MORE EFFICIENT THROUGH USE OF TECHNOLOGY?

Lavorato: IT'S DEVASTATING. AS YOU KNOW -- I DON'T THINK I HAVE TO TELL YOU, THE LEGISLATURE BALANCED -- OR, YEAH, BALANCED THE '01 BUDGET THAT THEY HAD PROPOSED, WHAT, $18 MILLION IN CUTS. THEY GOT IT DOWN TO NINE. THEY TOOK FOUR MILLION OUT OF OUR TECH FUND TO BALANCE THOSE CUTS AT ROUGHLY 50 PERCENT. THAT MONEY WAS TO BE USED TO FINANCE THREE PILOT PROJECTS IN EASTERN IOWA FOR ELECTRONIC FILING, WHAT WE CALL EDMS, ELECTRONIC DATA MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS. IT WAS THE FIRST STEP IN A PAPERLESS COURT. WHEN THEY TOOK THAT MONEY, IT PUT OUR TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM ON HOLD. THAT'S WHAT I THINK IS THE ANSWER TO THIS. I THINK WE HAVE TO KEEP FOCUSING ON TECHNOLOGY. WE HAVE TO GET THERE. IF WE HAD THE TECHNOLOGY THAT WE WERE LOOKING FOR -- IF WE HAD THAT TODAY, IT WOULDN'T BE AS DIFFICULT TO TRY TO MANAGE THIS COURT SYSTEM WITH THE BUDGET CUTS AS WE'RE HAVING RIGHT NOW. IT WOULD BE MUCH EASIER TO DEAL WITH.

Yepsen: SEPTEMBER 11 HAS CHANGED A LOT OF THINGS IN GOVERNMENT. WHAT HAS IT DONE FOR COURTROOM SECURITY IN IOWA? ARE YOU TAKING STEPS TO MAKE COURT FACILITIES MORE SECURE?

Lavorato: WE TOOK THE LEAD ON THIS. THE COURT TOOK THE LEAD ON THIS AND APPOINTED A TASK FORCE. THEY CAME OUT WITH RECOMMENDATIONS. THE COUNTIES WERE TO COOPERATE. THE STATE SHOULD PUT SOME MONEY INTO THAT -- INTO THAT PROJECT. OF COURSE, WITH THE SITUATION THE WAY IT IS NOW, I THINK THAT'S PROBABLY ON HOLD TOO. BUT WE'VE GOT A PLAN. THE COURT SYSTEM HAS A PLAN FOR SECURITY THROUGHOUT THE STATE OF IOWA.

Yepsen: DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THE PROBLEM IS?

Lavorato: MONEY.

Yepsen: WHAT'S THE PROBLEM YOU NEED MONEY FOR? THAT'S WHAT I'M GETTING AT.

Lavorato: WELL, TO PURCHASE THE KIND OF EQUIPMENT THAT YOU NEED TO EFFECT THE KIND OF SECURITY THAT IS NECESSARY. IF YOU JUST TAKE, FOR EXAMPLE, LOOK WHAT THEY HAVE DONE IN POLK COUNTY. THE SECURITY OFFICERS THEY HAVE DOWN THERE, THE ONES THAT THEY USE, THOSE COST MONEY.

Yepsen: ARE WE GOING TO BE SEEING MORE OF THAT IN COURTHOUSES AROUND IOWA? THEY'VE HAD IT IN THE FEDERAL BUILDING AND AT THE POLK COUNTRY COURTHOUSE. AS YOU MENTIONED, THEY'RE MOVING TOWARD DOING THAT AT THE STATE CAPITOL. YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE IT IN THE NEW JUDICIAL BUILDING. ARE WE GOING TO START SEEING THAT, MAG DETECTORS IN COUNTY COURTHOUSES?

Lavorato: I THINK SO IF -- BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT THAT PLAN CONTEMPLATES, IF WE EVER GET THE FUNDING TO CARRY THAT PLAN OUT.

Glover: THERE'S AN ONGOING DEBATE ABOUT SENTENCING POLICY IN THIS STATE. THERE ARE THOSE WHO SAY THE LEGISLATURE OUGHT TO EXPRESS IN THE PUBLIC WILL, DECIDE WHAT PEOPLE GET SENTENCED TO FOR VARIOUS CRIMES, MANDATORY MINIMUMS. WHAT'S YOUR VIEW ON THAT?

Lavorato: MY VIEW IS SIMPLE. THAT'S UP TO THE LEGISLATURE TO DECIDE, OF COURSE, AND THAT'S THEIR BAILIWICK AND I'M NOT GOING TO TELL THEM WHAT THEY OUGHT TO BE DOING, BUT MY PERSONAL FEELING IS -- "MY" PERSONAL FEELING IS THAT THEY OUGHT TO BE GIVING DISTRICT COURT JUDGES MORE DISCRETION, MORE SENTENCING DISCRETION. HOW MANY PRISONS HAVE WE GOT IN IOWA NOW, YOU KNOW? AND THEY'RE THINKING ABOUT FIVE MORE PRISONS.

Glover: IS THAT WHERE WE'RE HEADED WITH THE CURRENT SENTENCING POLICY?

Lavorato: I THINK THE LEGISLATIVE LEADERSHIP RECOGNIZED THAT. I THINK THEY PROBABLY WANT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT.

Yepsen: BUT, SIR, ONE OF THE REASONS THAT THE GOVERNORS AND LEGISLATORS GOT INTO THIS SENTENCING -- MINIMUM SENTENCING, WAS THAT THEY SAW DIFFERENCES IN SENTENCES. DIFFERENT JUDGES REACT DIFFERENTLY TO SIMILAR SETS OF FACTS. HOW DO YOU SOLVE THAT PROBLEM?

Lavorato: YOU DON'T. YOU'RE ALWAYS GOING TO HAVE SOME SENTENCING DISPARITY BUT, TO ME, YOU'RE NEVER GOING TO HAVE A PERFECT SYSTEM, BUT TO ME, I THINK IT'S THE BEST SYSTEM. THE COURT SETS THE DISCRETION.

Glover: HOW DO YOU GET TO AN OVERHAUL OF THE WAY THE STATE SENTENCES PEOPLE TO PRISON? DO YOU HAVE A COURT-RECOMMENDED SET OF RECOMMENDATIONS? DO YOU JUST LOBBY THE LEGISLATURE? DO YOU HAVE A TASK FORCE TO BUILD POLITICAL SUPPORT? IF YOU WANT TO REFORM IOWA SENTENCING LAW, HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT IT?

Lavorato: I THINK YOU NEED TO GET ALL THE PLAYERS AND THE SYSTEM INTO A TASK FORCE TO STUDY THE PROBLEM AND COME-UP WITH SOME RECOMMENDATIONS. I DON'T THINK THIS OUGHT TO BE ONE-SIDED. I THINK IT OUGHT TO INCLUDE ALL OF THE PLAYERS IN THE SYSTEM.

Glover: AND WHO WOULD THOSE PLAYERS BE?

Lavorato: WELL, I THINK YOU OUGHT TO HAVE NOT ONLY PROSECUTORS ON THAT TASK FORCE, YOU OUGHT TO HAVE CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYERS ON THAT TASK FORCE. YOU OUGHT TO HAVE JUDGES, LEGISLATORS, LAYFOLKS -- LAYPEOPLE ON THAT TASK FORCE. JUST, YOU KNOW, LAW ENFORCEMENT, YOU NAME IT. EVERY PLAYER IN THE SYSTEM OUGHT TO BE ON THAT TASK FORCE.

Glover: IS THAT JUST TO GET IDEAS FOR CHANGING THE SYSTEM TO BUILD SUPPORT FOR CHANGING THE SYSTEM?

Lavorato: MY VIEW, TOO, IS THAT COMMUNITY-BASED CORRECTION FACILITIES IS THE ANSWER TO A LOT OF THIS. IF YOU OVERHAUL THE SENTENCING AND RELY MORE ON COMMUNITY-BASED CORRECTIONS RATHER THAN PRISONS, I THINK THAT'S A GREAT IDEA, AND I THINK THEY REALLY OUGHT TO STUDY THAT VERY, VERY CAREFULLY. I THINK THEY ARE. I THINK THEY'RE LOOKING AT THAT MORE AND MORE.

Yepsen: LEGISLATORS ARE LOOKING AT SENTENCING REFORM LEGISLATION. THEY'VE PASSED SOME OF IT IN THE PAST. IT'S NOT GOTTEN THROUGH TO THE GOVERNOR YET. ARE YOU SAYING THEY SHOULD GO AHEAD AND PASS THE SENTENCING REFORM PROPOSALS AND DO WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT, OR ARE YOU SAYING THEY SHOULD JUST HOLD UP ON THESE SENTENCING REFORM PLANS AND LOOK AT A BIGGER PICTURE HERE?

Lavorato: THEY OUGHT TO LOOK AT A BIGGER PICTURE BUT, STILL, I THINK THEY OUGHT TO GIVE SOME RELIEF BECAUSE, IF YOU DON'T GIVE RELIEF, YOU'RE GOING TO END UP BUILDING FIVE MORE PRISONS. THAT'S MY TAKE ON IT, YOU KNOW. IT'S THE WAY I SEE IT.

Yepsen: BUT THOSE -- THOSE LEGISLATORS VOTED THOSE TOUGH LAWS BECAUSE IOWANS WANTED THEM. THEY'RE RESPONDING TO A DEMAND TO FIGHT CRIME IN THIS STATE, AND CRIME RATES HAVE GONE DOWN. SO SOME PEOPLE ARE MAKING THE CASE THAT THEY'RE DOWN BECAUSE WE'RE LOCKING UP A LOT OF THESE CHAPS. WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THAT?

Lavorato: WELL, WHAT DO I SAY TO THAT? AGAIN, THAT'S LEGISLATIVE DETERMINATION. THEY'VE GOT TO MAKE A DECISION. ALL I'M TELLING YOU IS -- MAYBE GIVE YOU AN IDEA OF HOW THEY OUGHT TO PROCEED IN LOOKING AT THE PROBLEM. I'M NOT GOING TO PRESUME TO TELL THEM WHAT THEY SHOULD BE DOING. THAT'S THEIR FUNCTION, NOT MINE.

Borg: MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, I'D LIKE TO DIRECT WHAT YOU'VE JUST BEEN TALKING ABOUT INTO A RECENT REPORT THAT DEALT WITH AFRICAN-AMERICANS. AND PROBABLY WHAT WAS INSINUATED THERE WAS THE DISPROPORTIONATE TREATMENT OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS IN THE COURT SYSTEM AND INCARCERATION. DO YOU SEE THAT AS A FAULT OF THE COURT SYSTEM OR OF SOCIETY?

Lavorato: SOCIETY.

Yepsen: WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT?

Lavorato: WELL, YOU'VE GOT TO CORRECT THE ILLS OF SOCIETY. THAT'S -- IT'S AS SIMPLE AS THAT. THAT'S -- IT TAKES A LOT OF HARD WORK. IT TAKES MONEY. IT TAKES GOOD THINKING. YOU'VE GOT THE SOCIAL ECONOMIC ILLS OF SOCIETY, AND THAT'S WHAT'S CAUSING THIS THING.

Yepsen: BACK UP FOR A MOMENT --

Lavorato: MOST OF IT. MOST OF IT.

Yepsen: YOU'VE GOT TO GO TO THE LEGISLATURE IN A FEW DAYS AND TALK ABOUT THE CONDITION OF IOWA'S JUDICIARY. WHAT IS THE CONDITION OF THE JUDICIARY? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO TELL POLICYMAKERS?

Lavorato: WE'RE MANAGING. WE'RE TRYING TO DO MORE WITH LESS. WE'RE MANAGING. LET THE SMOKE CLEAR AND LET'S SEE WHAT WE CAN DO AFTER WHAT YOU'VE DONE TO US. AND THEN -- BUT KEEP THIS IN MIND, LEGISLATORS: DON'T TAKE ANY MORE MONEY OUT OF OUR BUDGET. DON'T DO THAT TO US. LET US SEE WHAT WE CAN DO WITH WHAT WE HAVE -- WHAT WE HAVE LEFT, BUT LET US KEEP WHAT WE HAVE.

Glover: STEP BACK AND PUT YOURSELF OUTSIDE OF THE COURT SYSTEM. DESCRIBE THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND THIS SUPREME COURT.

Lavorato: IN WHAT WAY?

Glover: IN YOUR JUDICIAL PHILOSOPHY. IS THIS A CONSERVATIVE COURT, AN ACTIVIST COURT?

Lavorato: YOU KNOW, I DON'T LIKE TO PUT LABELS ON OUR JUSTICES. HERE'S REALLY THE WAY IT WORKS. THEY TAKE A CASE, THEY LOOK AT IT, AND THEY TRY TO DETERMINE WHAT THE LAW IS AND TRY TO FOLLOW THE LAW. TO TRY TO PUT A LABEL ON US, THAT'S DIFFICULT TO DO.

Yepsen: YOU'VE BEEN CHIEF JUSTICE NOW FOR A YEAR, OVER A YEAR -- JUST OVER A YEAR. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE JOB? WHAT'S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST SURPRISE?

Lavorato: I COULD HAVE COME IN UNDER BETTER CONDITIONS. [ LAUGHTER ] MY TIMING WAS BAD.

Yepsen: BECAUSE THE STATE HAS NO MONEY.

Lavorato: THE STATE HAS NO MONEY.

Yepsen: ASIDE FROM THAT, THOUGH, WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT THE JOB?

Lavorato: IT'S VERY CHALLENGING AND I GET TO DEAL WITH A LOT OF INTERESTING PEOPLE. I LIKE MY JOB. I REALLY DO.

Yepsen: WHAT DO YOU DISLIKE ABOUT IT? IS THERE ANYTHING, DOWNSIDE?

Lavorato: YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW WHAT I DISLIKE ABOUT IT?

Yepsen: YES, SIR.

Lavorato: I'VE NEVER BEEN PART OF A PROCESS THAT HAD TO LAY PEOPLE OFF. AND TO SEE THESE E-MAILS COME TO ME FROM FOLKS THAT WE HAD TO LAY OFF WAS JUST DEVASTATING. THAT REALLY HURTS.

Glover: WHAT'S THE BALANCE OF YOUR JOB BETWEEN JUST BEING A JUDGE, LISTENING TO LAWYERS MAKE ARGUMENTS, DECIDING LEGAL QUESTIONS, DEALING WITH THE LAW, AND BEING AN ADMINISTRATOR. AS A PERSON WHO RUNS THE STATE'S COURT SYSTEM, HOW DOES THAT BALANCE OUT?

Lavorato: WELL, I'M SPENDING MORE TIME, LATELY, DOING ADMINISTRATING WORK, AND I'M KEEPING UP WITH MY CASES. BUT I LOVE TO WRITE OPINIONS. I LOVE TO DO RESEARCH. THAT'S WHAT THEY HIRED ME TO DO, AND THAT'S WHERE I WANT TO GO. THAT'S WHAT I WANT TO DO. BUT THESE ADMINISTRATIVE PROBLEMS ARE JUST TAKING MORE AND MORE OF MY TIME, AN INORDINATE AMOUNT OF MY TIME.

Yepsen: AND THEN WE ASK YOU TO COME BE ON TELEVISION.

Lavorato: WELL, THAT'S ALL RIGHT. I THINK FOLKS ARE ENTITLED TO KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON.

Borg: HOW WOULD YOU HOPE -- IF YOU COULD DO IT, HOW WOULD YOU HOPE THAT IOWA'S JUDICIAL SYSTEM WOULD BE CHANGED WHEN YOU COME TO THE END OF YOUR TENURE?

Lavorato: THAT IT WOULD BE MORE EFFICIENT IN THE WAY IT DELIVERS SERVICES, THAT IT BE MORE ACCESSIBLE TO THE FOLKS OUT THERE. AND WHEN I SAY ACCESSIBLE, I'M TALKING ABOUT, AGAIN, EMPLOYING TECHNOLOGY TO GET US THERE. IF WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY THAT WE WERE LOOKING AT, I THINK JUDGES -- I THINK THE PUBLIC WOULD BE -- WOULD HAVE MORE ACCESS TO THE COURTS. I WANT THE BEST QUALIFIED LAWYERS TO APPLY FOR THE BENCH AND TO BE APPOINTED. I'D WANT A GOVERNOR WHO, WHEN HE OR SHE IS LOOKING AT A CANDIDATE, APPOINTS THAT CANDIDATE -- THE CANDIDATE THAT HAS THE BEST ABILITY THAT WILL DO THE BEST JOB AS FAR AS THE STATE OF IOWA IS CONCERNED. THESE ARE REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS.

Glover: YOU SEE A LOT OF LAWYERS COME IN BEFORE YOUR COURT AND A LOT OF OTHER COURTS. GIVE US AN ASSESSMENT OF THE LEGAL EDUCATION IN IOWA. IS THE QUALITY OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION GOING UP? GETTING BETTER? ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT THAT?

Lavorato: I TELL YOU, THESE KIDS SCARE ME TODAY. THEY ARE SO BRIGHT. THEY REALLY ARE. GET THESE LAW CLERKS IN AND IT'S JUST AMAZING WHAT THEY KNOW AND HOW ADEPT THEY ARE TO TECHNOLOGY. I USE TECHNOLOGY. I TYPE MY OPINIONS ON A LAPTOP, BUT NOTHING LIKE THESE KIDS. THEY'RE JUST OUTSTANDING.

Glover: SO YOU'RE COMFORTABLE WITH THE QUALITY OF THEM.

Lavorato: YEAH, THEY'RE IN GOOD HANDS. THE STATE OF IOWA, OUR LEGAL PROFESSION, WE'RE IN GOOD HANDS.

Yepsen: WE'VE GOT JUST A FEW SECONDS LEFT. GO BACK TO THE LEGISLATURE AND YOUR MESSAGE. SPECIFICALLY, ASIDE FROM THE MONEY THING, WHAT IS IT YOU WANT THIS LEGISLATURE TO DO? WRITE ME SOME PRESCRIPTIONS HERE FOR WHAT THIS LEGISLATURE AND THE GOVERNOR OUGHT TO --

Lavorato: FIRST AND FOREMOST, DON'T CUT ANY MORE OUT OF OUR BUDGET FOR '03. SECOND, GIVE US THE AUTHORITY TO REDISTRICT THE STATE OF IOWA. AND LAST, REMOVE THAT MANDATE REQUIRING 99 CLERKS, UNDERSTANDING THAT WE'RE GOING TO KEEP CLERKS' OFFICES IN ALL 99 COUNTIES.

Borg: WE RELY ON TECHNOLOGY HERE TOO, BUT WE STILL HAVE TO GO BACK TO THAT OLD-FASHIONED CLOCK. THANK YOU, MR. CHIEF JUSTICE, FOR BEING WITH US.

Lavorato: THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

Borg: AS WE'VE NOTED DURING THIS NEW BROADCAST YEAR, "IOWA PRESS" NOW AIRS ON FRIDAY AT 6:30 AND ON SUNDAYS AT NOON. WE HOPE THAT YOU'LL WATCH AT THOSE TIMES. AND IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION NOW NOTING THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF THIS PROGRAM OF "IOWA PRESS," AND WE CLOSE WITH A SNAPSHOT OF OUR "IOWA PRESS" PAST. IN OCTOBER, 1984, IOWA CONGRESSMEN NEAL SMITH WAS SEEKING A 14TH TERM IN THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. AND DURING AN "IOWA PRESS" APPEARANCE, THE IOWA DEMOCRAT SAID HIS VOTES ON ECONOMIC AND TAX ISSUES WERE INDEPENDENT AND FREE OF PARTY INFLUENCE. AND HE DEFENDED HIMSELF AGAINST REPUBLICAN CHARGES THAT HIS CONGRESSIONAL VOTES HURT IOWANS. I'M DEAN BORG. THANKS FOR JOINING US.

Smith: I THINK THEY'VE BEEN GOOD FOR IOWA, BUT LET'S GET STRAIGHT ABOUT THE TAX CUT. I GET JAWBONED BY SOME DEMOCRATS BECAUSE I VOTED FOR THE 1981 TAX CUT. I VOTED AGAINST THE SUBSTITUTE, THE REAGAN SUBSTITUTE, WHICH ADDED A WHOLE BIG BONANZA FOR THE OIL COMPANIES. I PREFERRED THE COMMITTEE BILL, BUT WHEN IT CARRIED, WHY, I VOTED FOR IT ANYWAY BECAUSE I THOUGHT IT WAS TIME FOR SOME CHANGES IN TAX POLICIES. WE'RE IN A RECESSION AND I THOUGHT IT WAS THE THING TO DO. I DON'T BUY ANYBODY'S TAX INCREASE PLAN COMPLETELY. WHAT I DO THINK IS WE'VE GOT TO CUT MILITARY SPENDING VERY, VERY SUBSTANTIALLY AND THAT SOME OF THIS $411 BILLION WE'VE GOT IN TAX EXPENDITURES FOR 1986 CAN BE REDUCED, AND THAT'S THE DOLE PLAN IS WHAT IT REALLY IS. GET RID OF SOME OF THE LOOPHOLES.

Narrator: FUNDING FOR "IOWA PRESS" WAS PROVIDED BY "FRIENDS" OF IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION; AND BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS; AND BY THE ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF IOWA... THE PUBLIC'S PARTNER IN BUILDING IOWA'S HIGHWAY, BRIDGE, AND MUNICIPAL UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE.