Archive for the 'Court Funding' Category
It is official: The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said in a press release that if the government partially closes on Oct. 1 amid a budget impasse, the federal courts will remain open for at least 10 business days.
“On or around October 15, 2013, the Judiciary will reassess its situation and provide further guidance,” the release said. It was reported by the ABA Journal.
To learn more about the U.S. court leadership making preparations for uncertain budgetary times, see this earlier Gavel Grab post.
U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, head of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, has written in a memo of increasingly difficult times ahead for federal courts and the people who use them if no agreement is reached in Washington for further government funding by Oct. 1.
The result could be extensive furloughs, worsening a “grave judicial crisis” from $350 million in budget cuts triggered by the across-the-board federal reductions called sequestration, he explained, according to a Blog of Legal Times post.
As Gavel Grab mentioned earlier, if a political impasse over the federal budget partially shuts down the U.S. government next week, the federal courts are likely to stay open for a time using fees they receive. Judge Bates said there are reserve funds to keep the courts operational for about two weeks, before all but essential work would be halted.
Meanwhile a SCOTUSblog post was headlined, “Almost no chance Court will shut down.”
Wyoming’s federal courthouse in Jackson may be on the real estate market soon, according to an article from the Huffington Post. Since federal sequestration measures were triggered in March, the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming’s budget has been described as woeful at best. The potential sale of the court house is just one in a string of many sacrifices.
Wyoming only has four federal courthouses, and selling the Jackson facility would severely limit the federal judiciary’s ability to function in the state. The District Court has faced perpetual flat funding over the years, Chief Judge Nancy Freudenthal said in a letter to the state’s congressional delegation, and further across-the-board budget cuts called sequestration in the next fiscal year would cripple the court’s ability to function even further.
The decrease in funding imperils not the only the judicial process for a lack of resources but also the safety of the court staff.
“Travel expense is a significant problem,” Kip Crofts, Wyoming’s U.S. attorney, offered as one example. “We have a huge district but not a large population, with four branch offices, and I have people driving almost 300 miles to go to federal court and driving back after their hearing to avoid spending a night in the hotel and incur that cost. That worries me as we approach the winter season.”
The Wyoming District courts have done their best to accommodate the cuts; they’ve had a hiring freeze for two years, they operate with a 15 percent vacancy rate among lawyers and support staff, and they expect a round of furloughs this upcoming year.
If a political impasse over the federal budget partially shuts down the U.S. government next week, the federal courts are likely to stay open for a time using fees they receive, according to Reuters.
The news service based its reporting on a recent Congressional Research Service report. Reuters said that “Judges, key court staff and probation officers would not be furloughed, although each court would determine its own staffing needs.”
When the government shut down for a period in 1995-1996, most federal courts “generally operated with limited disruption,” CRS said.
Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said state courts may be forced to close for seven weeks next year under the budget for the judiciary that the legislature approved this year. “This is a terrible prospect to consider,” he said.
The state’s top judge said a 10-member advisory committee will study the implications if the legislature does not increase court funding, according to a Lawrence Journal-World article.
In order to avoid furloughs for employees, the state courts need $8.25 million more during the next fiscal year, he said, according to the Associated Press. Overall, $127 million was approved for the judicial branch for this fiscal year, and almost $128 million for the next fiscal year. For the previous fiscal year, the budget was approaching $132 million. Read more
Because federal budget cuts are having a severe impact on the courts, a federal judge in New York said, he would not grant a prosecutor’s request to sequester a jury in a murder and racketeering trial.
Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. lamented the across-the-board, automatic federal budget cuts called sequestration, according to a New York Times article.
He wrote in an opinion that sequestration has “forced cuts to the bone” for most who are affected but for the judiciary, “sequestration has forced cuts to the marrow.”
It would help jurors in the case to have protection, and their identities will not be disclosed, he said, but additional steps to sequester them will not be taken because “the court must also be mindful of today’s economic climate.”
Meanwhile an NBC-2 report on the impact of budget cuts on courts in southwest Florida was headlined, “Sequester cuts affecting local trials.”
A letter by Justice at Stake and 26 other nonpartisan groups, asking Congress to make a priority of restoring adequate resources for the federal courts, was spotlighted by a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blog. All of the groups share a deep concern about human and civil rights.
“Warnings get louder over impact of sequester on federal courts,” declared the headline for the post by Bruce Vielmetti. An array of groups “joined the call to somehow spare the third branch in the name of justice,” he wrote. To learn more about the effort, see this earlier Gavel Grab post.
As Congress returned to work from its summer recess, it has been hearing a lot about the federal court funding crisis, triggered in large part by across-the-board, automatic budget cuts called “sequestration” or the “sequester.”
A Tampa Tribune article about federal court officials pressing Congress for budgetary help quoted U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich as saying:
“The courts, the Middle District of Florida and elsewhere, are having to cannibalize our resources for having to do our job.
“What’s happening is we’re collapsing from the inside.”
And the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported, “Wyoming’s federal court feels sequester squeeze.”
A Courthouse New Service article spotlighted a collaborative letter from 27 nonpartisan organizations that care deeply about civil and human rights. The article quoted Praveen Fernandes, Director of Federal Affairs and Diversity Initiatives of Justice at Stake saying, “Defaulting on the responsibility to fund the judiciary is defaulting on a commitment to justice.” The letter, in support of increased funding for the federal judiciary, was sent to Congress.
“Without alleviating the effects of sequestration on the federal judiciary, the rights to due process and fair trials will suffer,” the article said in summing up the groups’ concerns. This year’s $85 billion dollar overall sequester, or across-the-board cut, reduced the federal court budget by about 5%, or $350 million. As a result, courts across the country have been forced to participate in furloughs, close their doors early, and engage in several rounds of layoffs.
To learn more about the letter, click here for Gavel Grab.
New measures to trim costs, including cutting how much courthouse space is used and advocating for changes to let judges issue sentences less than mandatory minimums, were announced this week by the Judicial Conference of the United States.
With the end of the federal fiscal year approaching, Chief Judge William Traxler, chairman of the conference’s executive committee, said the judiciary is preparing for “the worst-case scenario,” according to the Blog of Legal Times.
Automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration began March 1, and it is uncertain whether they will continue in effect given seeming polarization in Congress over adopting a new budget. Sequestration resulted in a $350 million court for the judiciary in the current fiscal year.
According to a Judicial Conference press release, the Conference “agreed to seek legislation, such as the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 (S. 619), which is designed to restore judges’ sentencing discretion and avoid the costs associated with mandatory minimum sentences.” Read more
In a letter to Capitol Hill, Justice at Stake and 26 other nonpartisan organizations asked Congress on Tuesday to make a priority of restoring adequate funding for the federal courts.
The groups all described themselves as caring deeply about civil and human rights, “which are threatened by the current lack of resources provided to the federal courts,” according to the letter.
Under the across-the-board, automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, about $350 million has been cut from federal court funding, the letter said. The Federal Defender system, which provides legal representation for indigent defendants, seems to have been particularly hard hit.
“These cuts threaten to erode several core constitutional values, including the right to a jury trial and due process, and threaten to make illusory key statutory rights, such as the right to a speedy trial,” the groups warned. The letter continued:
“In a year when this nation marks the 50th anniversary of both Gideon v. Wainwright and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, we are reminded of the role that courts have played, and can continue to play, in the struggle for equality and justice. However, the courts Read more