In Iowa’s Largest Counties, a Longer Wait for Trial

Mar 20, 2014

Processing times for Iowa’s district courts vary throughout the state—often dependent on resources available for staff and court appearances. 

In Johnson County, a significant portion of cases take longer. The county has long struggled with a jail too small to house all its inmates and an understaffed courthouse—multi-million dollar bond issues to expand the facilities have been repeatedly rejected by voters.

County Attorney Janet Lyness says for years, space constraints have slowed the system.

"For anything you want to have a case tried within a year," Lyness said. "We started years ago when the court system was underfunded, we had furlough days and had to lay off court reporters. That led to much longer delays in getting to trial. We still have situations where case gets continued because we don’t have a court reporter."

For felonies, the percentage of cases in Johnson County taking longer than a year is almost twice as high as the state overall.

Credit Data provided by the Office of State Court Administration, Des Moines

There are now fewer cases lasting longer than a year than five years ago, due in part to a case expediting program for defendants who don’t pose a threat to the public.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors is exploring options to build an addition to the courthouse only, which may go to a vote in November.