What the Iowa Supreme Court is doing this summer while you are on vacation

By: Rox Laird on July 20th, 2017

It may be the summer break for the Iowa Supreme Court, but the justices are not idle. During the months of July and August – between the end of one term and the beginning of the next – the justices take a break from hearing cases and writing opinions in order to focus on the administrative side of the court’s responsibilities.

During this administrative term, however, the court will decide five cases that were argued in June: One appeal heard on expedited review involves whether terminating a parent’s rights is in the best interests of the child. And, four attorney discipline cases were submitted to the court in June. Also, the court will continue to review of applications for further review and petitions for rehearing.

Aside from those cases, the court’s administrative agenda is in large part devoted to access to justice, family and juvenile law.

Here are some of the topics the justices will be discussing:

Access to justice

The Access to Justice Commission, a 29-member commission chaired by Justice Brent Appel, was formed a year ago to make recommendations to remove barriers to civil justice for low-income and disadvantaged Iowans. The commission cited figures from the Iowa State Bar Association that more than 1 million Iowans have difficulty affording a lawyer to handle basic legal needs.

The commission made recommendations dealing with corporate involvement, public outreach, lawyers’ pro bono services, legal services for veterans, preserving access to justice in rural areas, expanding multilingual interpreters and standardizing case processing for self-represented litigants.

Physical restraints of juveniles

Last year the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Juvenile Procedure urged the Iowa Supreme Court to adopt a new rule limiting the use of physical restraints – such as handcuffs and leg shackles – on juveniles when they appear in court. The recommended rule came from a committee that included community leaders and juvenile justice experts led by Brent Pattison, director of the Middleton Center for Children’s Rights associate clinical professor of law at Drake University Law School, and Jeremy Rosen (now former) executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

The proposed rule being considered by the court says: “Instruments of restraint, such as handcuffs, chains, irons, or straitjackets, cloth and leather restraints, and other similar items, will not be used on a child during a court proceeding unless a juvenile court officer determines the use of restraints is necessary due to any of the following: a. Recent history of behavior by the child that has placed others at risk of substantial physical harm. b. Documented grounds to believe the child is a substantial risk of flight. c. Documented grounds to show restraints are necessary to prevent physical harm to the child or another person during the court proceeding.”

The proposed restraint rule also includes provisions for notice if restraint is deemed necessary and a right to ask for reconsideration.

Family law trial pilot project

The court will also consider recommendations regarding improvements in family law case processing.

Last year a task force on family law case processing reform led by Justice Thomas Waterman proposed adoption of three goals: “1. Greater simplicity, transparency, and uniformity in domestic case processing. 2. Expanded access to family law information and resources. 3. Increased quality alternatives to traditional litigation to resolve family law disputes.”

Earlier this year, Chief Justice Mark Cady issued an order seeking public comment on a specific recommendation from the task force to implement a “uniform requirement for mediation in advance of temporary order hearings and final trials in family law cases with a waiver option for cases involving domestic violence or other good cause.”

Other topics

Also, the court will consider changes in child support guidelines based on an April report by the Iowa Child Support Guidelines Review Committee, and it may also consider recommendations from the Guardianship and Conservatorship Reform Task Force.

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
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