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September 12, 2013

Judicial Conference writes to Prez Obama about crisis in funding court operations

As reported via this Politico story, headlined "Judiciary sends Obama budget plea," the Judicial Conference of the United States has written directly to Prez Obama to lament the impact of sequestration and budget cuts.   The letter to the Prez is available at this link, and here are passages from the letter which especially stress criminal justice concerns:

Several years of flat funding, followed by the sequestration cuts that took effect March 1, 2013, have had a devastating impact on court operations nationwide.....

The funding reductions have also put public safety at risk.  Staffing in probation and pretrial services offices is down seven percent since 2011 at a time when the number of convicted offenders under the supervision of federal probation officers hit a record 187,311 in 2012 and is on pace to reach 191,000 in 2014.  In addition, a 20 percent cut had to be made to the funding for drug, mental health, and sex offender treatment, as well as to drug testing services for offenders, searches, and electronic and GPS monitoring.

But the most significant impact of the budget cuts and sequestration thus far has been the reduction in funding for Defender Services.  Federal defender organizations (FDOs) and private panel attorneys fulfill the mandate of the Sixth Amendment and the Criminal Justice Act (CJA). Because the Constitution requires that we must provide counsel for indigent defendants, the only options for absorbing the more than $50 million cut to the Defender Services account are reducing FDO staffing levels through layoffs and furloughs, or deferring or reducing payments to private CJA panel attorneys.

For FY 2013, the Judiciary applied the $51 million reduction to Defender Services by requiring a suspension of payments to private panel attorneys for the last three weeks of the fiscal year, while the FDOs had to make staffing reductions and impose furloughs on remaining employees for an average of 15 days over the last half of the fiscal year. Between October 2012 and June 2013, FDOs downsized by more than 6 percent. Since March, their remaining employees have been furloughed for over 12,500 days. We can already see the impact of FDO staffing reductions in our courts. As one example, the federal defender office in New York recently asked to postpone the trial of alleged terrorist Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law.

Concerned about an impending shortfall of funding in FY 2014 for Defender Services, we recently took emergency action to preserve the indigent criminal defense function by committing to provide FY 2014 funding for federal defender organizations at a level sufficient to maintain nationwide the projected on-board staffing as of the end of September 30, 2013.  Absent the receipt of additional funding in FY 2014, achieving this objective will require reductions to the private panel attorney program.  Specifically, up to four weeks of panel attorney payments that otherwise would be payable in FY 2014 will have to be deferred into FY 2015.  In addition, the panel attorney compensation rate, for work performed from September 1, 2013, through September 30, 2014, will be reduced on a temporary emergency basis, by $15.00 per hour, for capital and non-capital case representations.

Under Article III of the Constitution, the Federal Judiciary is responsible for fairly and effectively adjudicating criminal and civil cases.   We do not have projects or programs to cut; for us, the cuts directly impact people.  We must adjudicate all cases that are filed with the courts, we must protect the community by supervising defendants awaiting trial and criminals on postconviction release, we must provide qualified defense counsel for defendants who cannot afford representation, we must pay jurors for costs associated with performing their civic duty, and we must ensure the safety and security of judges, court staff, litigants, and the public in federal court facilities.  Our workload does not diminish because of budget shortfalls.

September 12, 2013 at 06:40 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Should we spend a few tens of millions to ensure proper representation for the indigent...or should we continue to give billions in tax cuts and subsidies to billionaires, large corporations, and factory farms? Decisions, decisions.

I think I know which one Congressional Republicans would pick.

Posted by: PDB | Sep 12, 2013 7:51:31 PM

The lawyer has amazing gall when it comes to rent seeking. First, destroy business and the economy by forcing racist banks to mortgage crackheads. Next drive msnufacturing overseas by ruinous litigation and false prosecution. Then, immunize 90 of 100 serious crimes, driving down property values. Next, productive people, including antifeminist, productive females with crushing paper work and incentive killing regs. Lastly, get sequestered and every one begins to do better. So come cryong about more money, to resume the lawyer war on the American people, family, institutions, crime victims, productive males and females. One has to note, the economy has improved since the sequester slowed down the lawyer traitors. The cut should be permanent and get deeper, to save the nation.

Posted by: Suptemacy Claus | Sep 12, 2013 7:55:49 PM

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