By Julie Hessenius, Benton County Clerk of Court
I have been keeping tabs on the ongoing budget discussions and I am very concerned about what is going to happen with our Iowa Court system. Recently, I have heard that many counties in rural Iowa with three employees or less could be closed if the Judicial Branch is not fully funded. This will make the individuals from the rural communities travel to the bigger cities for all of their court needs and will slow down the court procedure for all.
I am currently the Clerk of Court for Benton and Iowa Counties. I have four full time employees in Benton County, two full and one part time employee in Iowa County. I have worked at the Clerk of Courts office in Benton County for the past 21 years. When I first started working in the Clerk’s office, Benton County employed six full time employees which included a full time Clerk. Iowa County had four full time employees which included a full time clerk. Since the beginning of all the cuts starting in 2001 and then again in 2009, we have already cut several positions in our District and we now have to share the Clerk of Court in these Counties.
I do believe the implementation of EDMS (Electronic Filing) has been a wonderful thing for our Court System. I am able to utilize resources from both of my counties to help when we are understaffed at either locations due to vacations and illness. I feel that my offices, even though we are down from our original staffing are adequately staffed for our workload. I would hate to lose any of my employees due to budget cuts. It would be most detrimental to my offices. Since first becoming Clerk of Court in January of 2016, I was understaffed due to not filling my position for approximately 8 months while we were under a hiring freeze. It made it very difficult to perform all of our duties in a timely manner, especially when we had employees on vacation or out for extended illnesses. I have an excellent staff and they have been trained well to help the public while abiding by the Iowa Rules of the Court and Financial practices established by the State Auditor’s office. Since the implementation of EDMS, our filings have gone up consistently. People no longer have to wait until the office opens to file any paperwork and we do have several Attorneys and Judges that work during the evening hours and have a full work load by the time we walk in the door at 8:00 a.m.
You may not think that you will ever need anything from the Clerk’s office, but at some point in your life you may need the services we offer. Usually it is at a most critical time. We have many duties in the Office of the Clerk of Court, but one of my main concerns is for the Public. While electronic filing has made it smoother for Attorneys and Judges to file paperwork, we have a duty to the public to assist self-represented parties trying to learn how to E-file. Our office deals in many areas, Small Claims and Civil filings, Estate, Guardianships, Trusts, Adoptions, Juvenile Court Services, Criminal and Traffic, Domestic Abuse, Mental & Substance filings and many other duties related to the court system. In several situations we work with people that are distraught and feel they are at the end of their rope. Some may be filing a Civil Domestic Protective order due to an abusive relationship, or need information about filing Hospitalization paperwork for persons with Substance and Mental Disorders. These are very difficult situations for people and I feel that it is most important to meet the needs of our public. I have a passion for the work I do. I enjoy working with people and want to do the best for my offices and the communities I work in. I believe it is only fair that each County have the ability to do their job and perform the Public Service that we were hired to do. It would be a great injustice to the community if we are not there to provide these services.
For the benefit of your community, I ask that you contact your Legislature and request them to fully fund the Judicial Branch. Let them know how important your Court System is to you.
For information on contacting your legislators, click HERE:
Julie A. Hessenius
Clerk of District Court
Benton and Iowa County