Archive for the 'Access to Justice' Category
U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Nebraska is so ticked off about the across-the-board federal budget cuts that he’s sounding off in his personal blog.
Take this: “If a banana republic is what members of Congress want,” Judge Kopf writes on herculesandtheumpire.com, according to a World-Herald News Service column, “I may help them get it.”
And this: Out of a concern to free up the time of 10 federal public defenders, he is “seriously contemplating” whether to drop some criminal cases where an immigrant is charged with being in this country illegally.
Why is Gavel Grab leading readers to the World-Herald News Service column instead of Judge Kopf’s own words? Because “The post appears to have been deleted,” according to the Blog of Legal Times.
Two federal district court judges in Washington, D.C. are sounding an alarm that automatic budget cuts threaten the rights of indigent defendants to publicly funded counsel, and the strong reputation of the U.S. courts is imperiled as a result.
Judges Reggie B. Walton (photo at left of two) and Paul L. Friedman (photo at right of two) sum up their concerns this way in a Washington Post op-ed entitled “Public defenders shouldn’t suffer under sequestration:”
“Particularly as concerns grow about wrongful convictions, it is distressing to see resources so dramatically diminished for those who protect the rights of the poor in the criminal justice system. And the judiciary is virtually powerless to do anything about it. We appreciate that the country’s fiscal problems must be addressed. But the effect of sequestration on the courts severely threatens the rights guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to those accused of crimes and, in the process, threatens our federal judiciary’s reputation as one of the world’s premier legal systems. This is a price we cannot afford to pay.”
With automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration taking effect, the office of the Federal Defenders of New York is losing almost one-fifth of its budget.
Lawyers representing Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, have asked that his trial be postponed as the budget cuts have left them short on resources and staff, says a New York Times editorial.
Indigent defendants like Abu Ghaith rely on the services of federal public defenders, the editorial says, and Judge Lewis Kaplan calls it “extremely troublesome” that a case of this magnitude has to be postponed due to sequestration (see Gavel Grab). Read more
Steve Nolder, director of the public defender’s office in southern Ohio, chose to fire himself instead of other lawyers after his office’s budget was slashed this year. Elsewhere, one of the top-rated lawyers in Northern Texas left his job in the wake of a 25 percent pay cut.
It’s a similar story in federal public defenders’ offices across the nation, according to the Huffington Post. Across-the-board budget cuts in March, known as sequestration, have led to hard consequences for many lawyers.
The article reports that the federal public defender system took an estimated $43 million cut this year. Texas public defender Richard Anderson is worried about losing experienced talent.
“I have spent the last seven years really investing in the legal acumen of my office. I have already moved from infinite rage to some sort of degree of quiet acceptance on my grief cycle, but I hope that articles will shine a light where we can get some relief.”
The potential impact of across-the-board budget cuts on the federal courts is making headlines in New York, where “sequestration,” as the cuts are called, could figure into timing of the terror trial of Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law.
A New York Times article said federal public defenders representing Sulaiman Abu Ghaith cited furloughs in their office, as a result of the budget cuts, in asking a judge not to schedule an early trial.
Replied U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan (photo), “It’s extremely troublesome to contemplate the possibility of a case of this nature being delayed because of sequestration. Let me say only that — stunning.”
Federal public defenders have made requests to a handful of Manhattan federal judges to step aside in cases because of sequestration.
Chief Judge Loretta A. Preska said, “It’s devastating.” There likely would Read more
Chief judges from all the federal circuit courts will gather at the semi-annual meeting of the Judicial Conference of the U.S. this week, and court budget cuts caused by sequestration will be at the top of their list for discussion.
The public’s legal rights will undoubtedly be denied or delayed by these massive across-the-board budget cuts, says Andrew Cohen in an article for The Atlantic. The judiciary was designed to be an equal branch of government, and its leaders should not have to “grovel for funding” from the other two branches, Cohen says.
Dennis Courtland Hayes, president of the American Judicature Society, warned in February that up to 2,000 federal court employees could be furloughed or laid off with the new budget cuts in place, reducing resources for individuals seeking legal help. Read more
California’s chief justice, lamenting closures of numerous state courts due to budget cuts, drew on a history lesson to warn that California “may now be facing a civil rights crisis.”
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye cited the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Gideon v. Wainwright, which said states must provide counsel for criminal defendants who can’t afford a lawyer. The ruling also offered a reminder that courts often provide a last resort for people they serve, she said, according to a Los Angeles Times article:
“Justice requires a court. But what we once counted on — that courts would be open, available and ready to dispense prompt justice — no longer exists in California.”
Budget cuts have led to reduced general funding of California’s courts by 65 percent in five years. In addition to closures, hours have been trimmed, court fees have soared, and some courts have seen “unconscionable delays” in setting dates for civil case proceedings, she said.
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, Texas Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson has spoken out “with great clarity and candor about the desperate legal conditions of his fellow Texans” who are indigent, a legal journalist writes.
Justice Jefferson eloquently addressed “the immediate need to secure for them all the right to ‘liberty and justice,’” Andrew Cohen reports at The Atlantic online. The judge made his remarks in an annual state of the judiciary address. He spotlighted the difference between access to justice for the rich and for the poor:
“For those who can afford legal services, we have a top-notch judicial system. Highly qualified lawyers help courts dispense justice fairly and efficiently. But that kind of representation is expensive. A larger swath of litigation exists in which the contestants lack wealth, insurance is absent, and public funding is not available. Some of our most essential rights – those involving families, homes, and livelihoods – are the least protected. Veterans languish for months before their disability, pension, and educational benefits arrive. Read more
On the eve of automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts, the American Judicature Society warned Thursday of “dire threats … to the effective administration of justice in the U.S. courts.”
The automatic budget cuts are called “the sequester” or “sequestration.” Dennis Courtland Hayes, president of AJS, said in a statement that the cuts scheduled for triggering today would total “more than $300 million from a total FY2012 budget of $6.97 billion [for the courts]. Because personnel costs make up the bulk of the judiciary’s budget, these cuts will have a direct impact on the delivery of justice.”
Hayes pointed to layoffs and furloughs, and to cuts in courthouse security, law enforcement and probation services that would jeopardize public safety. “Of particular concern to the American Judicature Society, which has worked for decades to improve access to the courts for self-represented litigants, those people seeking justice without a lawyer would have fewer services to help them navigate the judicial system,” he added.
Across-the-board budget cuts that could hit the federal courts soon are causing judges and court officials in New York to wonder where they can cut further, when no fat is left to trim.
“We are barely limping along with the double digit-cuts we’ve seen the last two years,” Southern District Chief Judge Loretta Preska told New York Law Journal. “We are so far past the muscle and into the bone here—I don’t know how we can continue to provide the services we are constitutionally required to provide.”
If a bipartisan resolution is not reached swiftly to avert automatic budget cuts, called “sequestration,” they are scheduled to be triggered on March 1.
The article gives this overview of the potential impact of cuts if sequestration occurs:
“From pretrial services and probation officers, to interpreters, to staffing in the clerks’ offices, officials say the danger is that the forced budget cuts from sequestration would come on top of reductions that have already Read more