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October 17, 2013

Federal courts and defenders get a few extra shekels in budget deal

As reported here via The BLT, there was a little good news for the federal courts and defenders in the final budget deal hammered out yesterday:

The budget deal Congress approved late Wednesday to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling provides $51 million in additional funding to the judiciary and to federal defenders.

Federal courts officials and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee greeted the increase as good news, although it is small when compared to $350 million in budget cuts earlier this year as part of sequestration.

In the bill, $1.012 billion would go to defender services, marking a $26 million annual increase over Fiscal Year 2013 for attorneys who represent indigent defendants, said Charles Hall, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

The extra funding would primarily go to pay the backlog of attorney fees under the Criminal Justice Act, which funds court-appointed private counsel. Payments were suspended in mid-September, when funding ran out two weeks before the end of the fiscal year.

The bill also includes $4.8 billion for judiciary salaries and expenses. That amounts to a $25 million annual increase over FY2013, court officials said. The legislation gives judiciary officials the ability to float those funds among accounts to respond to the most urgent budget needs as they arise, Hall said.

Overall, the judiciary budget would rise from about $6.65 billion to about $6.7 billion. The Senate first approved the bill by an 81-18 vote. The House then approved the bill by a 285-144 vote, sending it to the White House.

A spokesman for Senator Christopher Coons (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts, said the funding levels should be sufficient to end the furloughs of federal defenders.

A few prior related posts:

October 17, 2013 at 10:22 AM | Permalink

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Comments

This appropriation is unlikely to actually help cash-strapped Federal Public Defender offices (other than stopping furloughs).

Instead, the money covers the more expensive costs of the sequester's forced shift toward court-appointed attorneys and away from professional federal public defenders.

Posted by: Will Partlett | Oct 17, 2013 4:18:49 PM

Indeed, most of the extra money is for delayed CJA payments. It appears not all defender offices will be able to avoid furloughs and layoffs. It also appears CJA will face lowered rates and delayed payments again.

Posted by: RWS | Oct 18, 2013 12:25:05 PM

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