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April 29, 2014

Insider "Joe FedCourt" rails against federal "defenders sucking up all the oxygen" in budget fights

Late last week, I received a remarkable email from someone calling himself/herself "Joe FedCourt" which complained about the title I had given to a link in my Resources side-bar.  Because the email revealed from an apparent insider some serious tension between federal court personnel and federal defenders (as well as non-Artile III judges), I requested and received permission to reprint the lengthy email from "Joe FedCourt" in full.  Here it is:

I work in the Federal Courts, and the judge I serve is on a prominent committee of the Judicial Conference.  As I can't talk to people like you without permission, I have to go this route.

Look, there is no such thing as the "US Office of Defender Services". That doesn't exist anymore. Just under a year ago the Conference and the AOUSC realized you can't have non-court entities running around undermine the credibility of the Article III judges. So they created 3 departments of the AOUSC. That way magistrates, Defenders, and probation/pretrial types have to work through another layer of oversight and supervision before they reach the Director and the Conference. Otherwise their parochial concerns take away from the real work of the Judicial Conference.

So in this case, "Office of Defender Services" is now called the "Defender Services Office WITHIN the Department of Program Services. So you should write:

"Administrative Office of the US Courts, Department of Program Services, Defender Services Office".

We have enough trouble in the Judiciary -- just on Friday we saw an article on the FRONT PAGE of the WASHINGTON POST discussing a magistrate "revolt" regarding what criminal investigators may keep when they procure evidence under a warrant.  As if it is their place to step in and question ANY Article III judge.  This only follows upon what we have seen this past year, with Defenders running to the Hill, talking to DOJ about clemency, and discussing indigent defense with the press.  The mechanics of how justice is administered in this country, in terms of the allocation of resources and the scope of jurisdiction, is exclusively the purview of the Judicial Conference of the United States and should be recognized as such.  The Conference could have gotten more money for judges' chambers and court staff if it weren't for people like the Defenders sucking up all the oxygen last summer and fall!  Not to mention magistrates undermining confidence in the Conference as people wonder who the hell is running the Judiciary!!!

I sound bitter, but really.  How do you think it makes a member of, say, the Budget Committee of the Judicial Conference feel to be asked, for example, why Defenders can't have varying caseloads when judges do?

How does a member of Congress even ASK such a question, blindsiding a committee member who thinks the topic will be emergency judicial vacancies?  Is it not the EXCLUSIVE purview of the Judicial Conference to determine whether all defendants should get a Chevy or a Yugo level of defense, without defenders whining so much that the Hill robs Clerk Peter's travel budget for circuit learning opportunities to give to Defender Paul's investigators.  Especially when those investigators are almost always just reinventing the wheel???  Doesn't the Judicial Conference have far more important matters to consider than whether some guy heading for Leavenworth should get 21 or 18 years?

So please follow Judicial Conference policy.  There is no "US Office of Defender Services" for an administrative organ of a program wholly subservient to the Federal Judiciary. It's about time these well-quoted Defenders learned that, not to mention others who think they are mentioned in the Constitution (hint -- you're not, bankruptcy judges). You can help.

Wowsa!  Critically, I neither endorse these comments nor have the kind of insider knowledge to know if these complaints are unique to just Joe FedCourt or instead represent broader views among those who work directly with Article III judges.  For that reason and others, I am quite eager to (1) hearreactions to this Joe FedCourt rant and/or (2) report on additional perspectives and information concerning any serious on-going tensions among various key players in the federal court community.

April 29, 2014 at 09:43 AM | Permalink


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Oh, come on, Doug. I also work somewhere in the federal judicial apparatus, and know precisely no one who talks or feels like this. I've heard multiple judges, over the last year, express great sympathy for the defenders' budget situation. This sounds like a parody of perceived judicial arrogance by someone in an FD's office to me. Whoever wrote it doesn't sound too sharp, given their description of the Washington Post article last week (of course Magistrate Judges can't overrule something an Article III judge has done; that's not the issue).

BTW, while the AO did reorganize itself last year, the intention was not to "demote" the FDs or others, but to streamline what had become a very top-heavy and confused structure over the decades.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 29, 2014 9:56:34 AM

So, Anon, you think I am being punked? I am certain the rant is not representative of all folks working in the federal judiciary, but some? Maybe this is Bill Otis trying to stir the pot in another way? A judge?

Again, here I am just reporting/reprinting, not blessing or confirming this story as told by Joe FedCourt. But someone took the time to rant this way to me, and he/she did not seek publication until I said I wanted to reprint this to gauge reactions and responses.

Posted by: Doug B. | Apr 29, 2014 10:06:36 AM

He's right about one thing. He does sound bitter.

Posted by: APC | Apr 29, 2014 11:22:18 AM

Anytime you asks people with different agendas, particularly conflicting agendas, to share a single pot of money, there's going to be those who feel they've been treated unfairly. That unfair treatment will no doubt motivate some to raise smart critiques about the way in which the money is being allocated -- and perhaps some of those smart critiques include good points about the amount of money being allocated to representation for criminal defendants. That being said, none of those smart critiques appear in this email, and I'm not sure I see the point in providing a soap box for juvenile ranting.

One comment on the merits of the email. The individual who wrote the email mocks the idea of spending time and resources to figure out whether a defendant should receive 18 or 21 years. Setting aside the importance many of us place on liberty, if a defense lawyer can convince a judge that the client should receive 18 rather than 21 years, he or she has saved the system 80k in detention costs, which will almost certainly far exceed the amount of money allocated to the defense of that individual. In many ways, good federal defense lawyers save the system significant amounts of money, in light of the huge costs of detention. This is particularly so in cases in which the defendant is facing a very long prison sentence, given the high cost of detaining elderly prisoners and the low chance they commit new crimes once released.

Posted by: FPD | Apr 29, 2014 11:50:09 AM

I was trying to find some substance in that rant but I couldn't.

"How does a member of Congress even ASK such a question, blindsiding a committee member who thinks the topic will be emergency judicial vacancies?"

He really seems bitter than congressional committees are not pre-scripted.

Posted by: Might Be a Narc | Apr 29, 2014 12:20:44 PM


The only people within the judiciary who I could imagine seriously writing something that arrogant would be a few 25-year-old term law clerks I've known. And if the writer is a term law clerk, spending a year or two working for a single judge somewhere, the idea that he really understands (beyond overheard gossip or the like) how the judiciary is nationally administered is absurd.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 29, 2014 12:31:24 PM

Speaking as (yet another) well-placed (former) Fed Jud employee, I can say the Judicial Conference committees reflect a subset of the Judiciary. The key committees reflect an even narrower subset. It's the CJ who chooses the members, not Justice Sotomayor (for example).

Now you will see Democratic appointees on key committees, but they're not liberal lions. They're South Carolinians like Bill Traxler, elevated by Bill Clinton (at Fritz Hollings's suggestion) to the 4th after Strom Thurmond had encouraged President George H.W. Bush to appoint Judge Traxler to the Fed District Court bench in S.C. Traxler, incidentally, replaced Jesse Helms protege David Sentelle as Chair of the Executive Committee, joining Budget Committee Chair Julia Smith Gibbons as the two most powerful members of the Judicial Conference.

Is it as bad as Joe FedCourt demonstrates? Probably not. But when you go before Congress comparing defense representation to doctors ordering unnecessary tests to avoid malpractice (or ineffective assistance of counsel in the attorneys' case), well, there you go.

Posted by: Janet | Apr 29, 2014 12:34:27 PM

Given the tone, it was hard to follow what his point even was. It's all the more unfortunate, since I don't have enough knowledge of the federal system to know what he's talking about on my own. It seems weird that the courts and defense attorneys are under the same division, but I'm not sure if it's necessarily better or worse overall (I'm already used to the idea of having no budget and asking the court to pay for things like investigators, so that's no different). I do think they have conflicting interests at times, which makes it odd.

Posted by: Erik M | Apr 29, 2014 3:47:30 PM

Joe FedCourt's tone makes me think he is crank with an ax to grind who has probably exaggerated his access to and knowledge of Judicial Conference discussions.

However, it is worth considering whether the Judiciary is the best agency to dictate the budget and level of service that indigent federal defendants get.

Posted by: Bryan Gates | Apr 29, 2014 3:57:10 PM

It is obviously a parody.

Posted by: Dan Scott | Apr 29, 2014 4:03:55 PM

not sure about most of it outside of the fact the writer needs to get a life.

but I did find this interesting!

" The mechanics of how justice is administered in this country, in terms of the allocation of resources and the scope of jurisdiction, is exclusively the purview of the Judicial Conference of the United States and should be recognized as such."

Now me I figure the purview of all gov't actions including this would be the citizens who are paying for it.

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 29, 2014 4:31:28 PM

I agree with a couple of commentators above: it's satire/parody.

Posted by: afpd | Apr 29, 2014 7:12:03 PM

I've read through this rant four times now, and I confess that I have no idea what he's talking about. Is there some article somewhere that explains the events that seem to have him so worked up?

Posted by: C.E. | Apr 29, 2014 10:55:12 PM

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