Archive for the 'Court Funding' Category
An editorial in the Asheville Citizen Times urges the state to restore funding for North Carolina’s courts. The battle for more funding will be an uphill battle, the editorial notes, observing that “Funding of courts is a hugely important issue, but not one that fits on a bumper sticker or excites crowds on the campaign trail.” Under the current system, counties are obligated to provide for the physical facilities of the courts, and the state is supposed to pay for personnel. However, the 2011-2012 General Assembly eliminated funding for 200 full time positions and 61 magistrates.
The editorial warns that without help from the state, local courts may be forced to seek other methods of raising money that potentially hurt the justice system. These could include raising fees, which would deny access to the courts for those who have little money, or seeking funds from other donors, which creates the potential for corruption in the court room.
An American Bar Association official has told Congress that a shortage of federal judges has adverse everyday consequences for people and businesses that use our courts, and that the shortage is exacerbated by across-the-board budget cuts called sequestration.
Thomas Susman, director of the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office, voiced the concerns in a letter last week. The letter was the topic of a Legal Newsline article headlined, “ABA: Too few judges, lack of funding hurting federal courts.” Susman wrote:
“When federal courts do not have sufficient judges to keep up with the workload, civil trial dockets take a back seat to criminal dockets due to the Speedy Trial Act. As a result, persistent judge shortages increase the length of time that civil litigants and businesses wait for their day in court, create pressures that ‘robotize’ justice, and increase case backlogs that will perpetuate delays for years to come. Read more
The myriad ways in which the federal government’s partial shutdown impacted federal court operations are chronicled in a recent edition of Third Branch News, a newsletter by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts:
- “Some of our calendars are 200 pages thick. Getting cases back on the calendar will almost be unmanageable,” said Chief Judge Cecelia Morris of the Southern District of New York Bankruptcy Court. “It’s like the proverbial car accident. The first one was just a fender bender, but now cars are backed up 10 miles down the road.”
- “[T]he general impression was that federal courts were on their last breath,” West Allen, chair of the Government Relations Committee of the Federal Bar Association. “The judges and court staff did an exceptional job of getting through this, but if it had gone even another week or two, there would have been real problems.”
- Chief Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois issued an order on Oct. 17 postponing for 14 days all litigation involving the United States as a party. He said more than 1,000 cases were halted temporarily. Read more
The combined impact of federal budget cuts and the recent partial government shutdown on federal courts often has been called a “double whammy.” Although the 16-day shutdown is past, federal courts in the Dallas, Texas area still are feeling the impact, the Dallas Morning News reports.
A civil case backlog has increased due to the shutdown, when chief judges in many areas temporarily halted civil case proceedings if the government was a party to a case.
The federal public defender in Dallas, Jason Hawkins, said furloughs have led two of his staff attorneys to depart, and two veteran investigators took early retirement. Hawkins said he has five trial attorneys compared to about 58 federal criminal prosecutors working in Dallas. Read more
The federal government’s partial shutdown may be over, but if a budget impasse is not resolved and a shutdown is repeated next year, a federal judge said, it is likely to have “a serious affect on our ability to dispense justice for everyday Americans.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt of Iowa wrote about his concerns in a Des Moines Register op-ed, and he spotlighted the kinds of important but often overlooked cases that were delayed during the recent 16-day shutdown when courts stayed open, drawing down reserve funds. These reserves were expected to run out the same day the government reopened.
In one case the Internal Revenue Service placed a tax lien on a piece of Iowa land, the owner sought to have the legal cloud removed, and on Oct. 8, IRS lawyers successfully requested a delay in the case until the agency’s funding was restored.
“This is no small matter for the owner of land who could not sell, mortgage or otherwise exercise ownership rights over property until the shutdown was addressed,” Judge Pratt wrote. Read more
A judge who holds a leadership position with the U.S. Judicial Conference says a budget stop measure, including $51 million in additional funds for the federal judiciary and for defender services, isn’t enough.
Federal judges will continue to advocate that Congress undo all $350 million cut from the judiciary by sequestration, the automatic, across-the-board cuts that were triggered March 1, Judge Julia Gibbons said, according to Legal Newsline. Judge Gibbons is chairwoman of the U.S. Judicial Conference’s budget committee.
Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg similarly said last week, “This is a decent stopgap to get some things going again, however it’s nowhere near what the courts need to simply provide adequate equal justice in the way that the Constitution actually requires them to do” (see Gavel Grab). The stopgap measure permitted the reopening of the federal government, which had shut down for 16 days.
The nation’s federal courts are on “pretty thin ice in terms of their budget,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told an Alabama news outlet on the day the federal government reopened after a 16-day partial shutdown.
An Al.com article was headlined, “Federal courts survived shutdown on fines and fees but have less flexibility now.” If there is another government closure in January, when a stopgap funding measure runs out, the courts will have less revenue in reserve on which to draw, the article said.
The article quoted Brandenburg about the impact on the courts of sequestration, the across-the-board, automatic federal budget cuts that began on March 1. He also discussed restoration of $51 million to the judiciary — compared to $350 million in sequestration cuts — under the stopgap measure that resulted in the government’s reopening (see Gavel Grab). Read more
The U.S. government re-opened on Thursday after a 16-day partial shutdown, which cut into federal court operations. With the re-opening came news that the budget stopgap measure approved by Congress includes $51 million in additional funds for the federal judiciary and for defender services.
“This is a decent stopgap to get some things going again, however it’s nowhere near what the courts need to simply provide adequate equal justice in the way that the Constitution actually requires them to do,” said Bert Brandenburg, Justice at Stake’s executive director, in a YouTube video.
“While this doesn’t fully restore the Judiciary and the defenders to the funding levels they need to fully execute their constitutional mission, this increase is a much-needed lifeline,” a spokesman for Sen. Chris Coons, chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts, told the Blog of Legal Times.
Justice at Stake is among groups that have urged Congress to restore adequate funding for the courts in recent months, especially in the wake of automatic, across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration that took effect beginning March 1. Read more
With the outlook for resolution of a budget impasse in Washington uncertain, a chief federal judge in Illinois warned on Tuesday that without a fix, he could be forced to order the complete closure of the district’s courts late this week.
Chief Judge Ruben Castillo of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois warned, “I don’t see a way to keep going into Friday, unless there is some money coming in from Washington D.C.,” according to the Associated Press. Judge Castillo voiced his concerns before news reports emerged on Wednesday about a possible breakthrough agreement that could reopen the government.
“We’re on financial life support,” said Castillo, “and we’re running out of funding, which ultimately ends up with one outcome, which is either a partial shutdown, or a complete shutdown.”
Meanwhile Federal News Radio had a report entitled, “Federal courts about to run out of cash, ABA president says.” In Huffington Post, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., wrote a commentary that was headlined, “What price justice?”
The partial government shutdown has been “slowing the wheels of justice” by delaying civil trials in federal courts, requiring U.S. prosecutors to work with bare-bones staffs and also by raising uncertainty about what happens when reserve funds run out if the government has not opened then, the Associated Press reported.
“The Constitution tells us what we have to do and we can’t control our workload. It walks in the door, whether we’re funded or not funded,” said U.S. District Court Chief Judge Loretta Preska in New York.
The shutdown was in its 15th day on Tuesday, with news reports of progress in the Senate on a budget deal but uncertainty whether the House would accept it.
Late last week, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware spoke on the Senate floor about the harm caused by the shutdown and the perils ahead if it is not lifted by Oct. 17, the last day that reserve funds are expected to keep the federal courts operating. He is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts. Read more