In October of 2006 I posted about an Iowa Association of Business and Industry survey regarding how Iowa business leaders perceived the legal climate in Iowa. The survey stated that many business leaders are dissatisfied with Iowa’s legal climate and believe it is costing the state jobs because of competition with other states.
That survey seemed to contradict the U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey which said Iowa ranks fourth in the country for judicial fairness. Iowa has ranked in the top five for each of the last four years.
So, which is it? Well, we may have the answer. Jim Carney, Legislative Counsel for the Iowa State Bar Association, says that Iowa’s civil trials are on a downward trend. In the latest addition of the Iowa Lawyer Carney pointed out that there has been a 17.5 percent reduction over the last five years in civil jury trials relating to tort law. Moreover, the number of civil jury trials in Iowa continues on a downward trend. There were a total of 262 civil jury trial in the entire state during 2006. But even more important Carney says is the fact there has been a 44 percent decline in the total number of jury trials (civil and criminal) from 1994 to 2006. In 2006, 37 counties in Iowa reported no civil jury trials while 21 counties reported one civil jury trial, 18 counties reported two and 7 counties reported three civil jury trials. All in all, an astonishing 83 counties reported three or less civil jury trials.
Why the downward trend? One of the major reasons for the decrease in civil jury trials is the increased use of mediation as an alternative to taking cases to court. Overall, my experience with business clients leads me to believe that Iowa’s judicial system is just as good as any state. There are always ways to improve our Iowa’s business climate but it just doesn’t appear the facts support the notion that Iowa’s legal system is a problem.
*This was originally written by me for IowaBiz.com.