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Federal Courts Roll Back Hours, Employee Wages as Sequestration Hits

A U.S. Bankruptcy judge in Manhattan will cease holding after-hours hearings. Federal court personnel are facing furloughs. Civil cases will be postponed or delayed. These are just a few of the upcoming changes faced by federal courts as budget cuts known as “sequestration” take effect.

Under sequestration, about $332 million will be cut from the federal judiciary’s budget, according to a Bloomberg article. The cuts amount to 5 percent of the current budget, and may be in place through September 30 when the fiscal year ends, the article says.

A directive from the Administrative Office of the Courts explains that civil jury trials may be suspended during this time, and court security personnel will be drawn down.

“The immediate effects of sequestration will impact everything from the security at courthouses to the supervision of offenders,” said U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, director of the AOC, in a statement. “Work that will allow the courts to operate more smoothly, and in most cases, save money, will either be delayed or worse – canceled.” Read more

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Days Before Primary, More Attention to Wisconsin Court Feuding

The state Judicial Commission that brought ethics charges against Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser now is controlled by appointees of Gov. Scott Walker, and it has ordered a special prosecutor not to pursue new avenues in the stalled case, at least for now.

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article reported these developments under the headline, “Supreme Court Justice David Prosser’s case appears stuck in neutral.”

Justice Prosser was accused of putting a fellow justice in a chokehold during a disagreement, an episode that highlighted sharp divisions and feuding on the philosophically divided court. Tensions on the court and allegations of dysfunction have provided fodder for two rivals challenging an incumbent justice in a primary contest set for Tuesday.

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Minnesota business leaders are examining a new system of electing state judges, according to Chuck Slocum at the Minnesota Post. The plan would implement an independent commission to evaluate judges, and retention elections for incumbents. On Monday, Truth to Tell hosted an on-air interview concerning merit selection of judges.
  • According to an article in the Arizona Republic, there is a growing debate over the value of appointments based on merit for justices of the peace. Advocates of merit selection believe it would improve judicial quality.
  • Given the Ninth Circuit Court’s narrow decision, the Prop 8 case may avoid argument in the U.S. Supreme Court entirely, according to the New York Times. The future of same-sex marriage now depends on the wording of an appeal to the high court.
  • Despite several notable attacks, Supreme Court justices still go without top security. Some justices cite this as a way to maintain anonymity, according to an article in the New York Times.
  • PBS is broadcasting a film this week about the life of Thelton Henderson, one of the first African-American federal judges in the U.S. Justice at Stake’s own tribute to prominent African-American figures in the law can be found here.

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Judge Roll is Mourned in Tucson

Federal Judge John M. Roll of Arizona, remembered by lawyers as a model of fairness, was mourned by nearly two thousand people –  including fellow judges and dignitaries — at a funeral service in Tucson Friday.

Chief District Judge Roll had received numerous threats over his handling of a controversial case involving illegal immigrants two years ago. But his death came outside a supermarket when a gunman launched an attack apparently targeted at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six bystanders, including Judge Roll.

On Wednesday President Obama said the judge’s colleagues  “described him as the hardest-working judge” within the territory of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the New York Times reported.

When Judge Roll handled the dispute that became known on talk radio as “the illegal immigrants vs. the vigilante rancher,” he was respected by lawyers on both sides as a model of fairness, according to a Los Angeles Times profile.

Four large coach buses brought dozens of judges Friday to the funeral service at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, the Associated Press reported, and the following were among dignitaries at the service, amid tight security: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer; U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl; and former Vice President Dan Quayle.

Judge Roll was a strong advocate in seeking additional courts and judges to cope with the increasing workload of federal cases tied to illegal immigration.

Only a week before he was slain, he declared a judicial emergency in southern Arizona, the Los Angeles Times said. Judge Roll reported that federal felony cases brought in Tucson had shot up from 1,564 to 3,289 in two years, and he noted, “We’ve reached a choke point.” According to some accounts, he stopped at the supermarket to talk about judicial caseload with Rep. Giffords. Read more

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Tight Security for Judge’s Funeral in Tucson

When a funeral service is held in Tucson Friday for murdered federal Judge John M. Roll, judges from around the nation are expected to attend amid ultra-tight security.

“I can’t give a specific number, but there are about 100-plus judges who are coming in from all over the country, from Supreme Court justices to district judges,” said U.S. Marshal for Arizona David Gonzales, according to a report by radio station KTAR.

An extremist church in Kansas said it would not hold planned protests outside the funeral planned today for 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, and Friday for Judge Roll, in a deal it made for radio airtime, according to a Los Angeles Times article.

The Westboro Baptist Church earlier had announced a protest outside the judge’s funeral because  the church thought his colleagues in the judiciary had acted against the church’s interests.

Judge Roll was shot fatally Saturday at an event hosted by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., to meet constituents; she was critically wounded, and five other people were killed.

Shooting suspect Jared Lee Loughner will be tried by federal district Judge Larry Burns of San Diego, the Arizona Republic reported. All Arizona’s federal judges recused themselves from the case due to personal and professional ties with Judge Roll.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a judicial emergency exists in Arizona, where three of 12 federal judgeships are open, according to the Los Angeles Times. Some news media have reported that Judge Roll went to the Saturday event to talk to Giffords about the heavy judicial caseload in the district (see Gavel Grab).

Judge Kozinski urged swift action by the White House and Senate to fill the vacancies.

“I hate to take advantage of such a tragedy, but if this brings public attention to the pressing need of filling vacancies then that would be a welcome result,” he said.

On Wednesday evening, President Obama attended memorial services in Tucson, eulogizing the six slaying victims and offering prayers for those who were wounded, the New York Times reported. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, of Arizona, were in attendance. You can watch Obama’s remarks by clicking on the C-SPAN video above.

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Action Urged to Honor Judge Roll

President Obama will attend a memorial service in Tucson Wednesday to honor victims of the shooting rampage.

While Obama is likely to touch on the killing of Chief District Judge John M. Roll, one of 20 people shot in the attack that apparently targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, other personal tributes have begun flowing.

Chief Judge Raymond Dearie of New York’s Eastern District said there would be no better way to honor the fallen judge than for his colleagues to volunteer to share the workload of courts along the U.S. border with Mexico. Thousands of immigration cases have placed these courts “under siege,” he told the New York Law Journal.

In the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, Andrew Clevenger wrote in a commentary that President George H.W. Bush nominated Judge Roll on Sept. 23, 1991, and the Senate unanimously confirmed him less than two months later. That speedy confirmation rate seems “unthinkable” today, said Clevenger, who urged:

“While proclamations and heightened focus on judicial security are all well and good, the Senate can best honor Judge Roll by living up to its obligation to confirm qualified judges in a timely manner.”

In advance of the holiday celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the shootings “an unspeakable tragedy.” He added, according to a text of his speech:

“Without question, threats against public officials – whatever form they take – continue to be cause for concern and vigilance.   But I do not believe that these threats are as strong as the forces working for tolerance and peace.”

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How to Handle ‘Alarming’ Safety Risks for Judges?

Rep. Peter King of New York, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Tuesday he plans to introduce a bill that would make it a crime for people to carry a gun within 1,000 feet of a federal judge or member of Congress.

“In the United States, it is illegal to bring a gun within 1,000 feet of a school. Passing a similar law for government officials would give federal, state, and local law enforcement a better chance to intercept would-be shooters before they pull the trigger,” asserted the Republican in a statement reported by MSNBC.

King (photo at right) announced his planned legislation at a news conference with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as they responded to the shooting rampage in Arizona that gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed federal Judge John M. Roll (photo, above left) and five others.

Three days after the Tucson bloodshed, the murder of Judge Roll — who apparently was not the target of the shooting suspect, Jared Loughner — continued to rivet attention on safety risks facing judges, whether in their courtrooms or unprotected in public.

Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the District Court for the District of Columbia labeled the Tucson shooting “alarming,” according to a Blog of Legal Times post. It raises questions whether federal judges and elected officials ought to make public appearances without security, he said.

Judges around the country continued to wrestle with the implications of Judge Roll’s shooting. According to a separate MSNBC article, it “underscored  the safety risks members of the judiciary branch at all levels have faced for decades.” In recent times, threats upon federal judges and prosecutors have soared (see Gavel Grab). The MSNBC article was entitled “Judges no strangers to balancing security.”

Judge Dana Leigh Marks, head of the National Association of Immigration Judges, put it this way:

“In this time when people are angry at public servants and are facing tough economic times, judges become a visible symbol for their anger.

“It’s a little bit frightening, especially to our families, who are wondering if we’re risking our lives just to go to work.” Read more

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Judges Shaken by Colleague’s Killing

Judge John M. Roll wasn’t the target of a gunman outside a Tucson supermarket. Even so, the 63-year-old federal judge’s slaying was hugely unsettling to other federal judges, even beyond the loss of one of their colleagues.

In an era of rising threats against judges, Judge Roll’s fatal shooting raised troubling questions, TIME reported in an article entitled, “Why the Tucson Massacre Has Rattled U.S. Judges.”

The news of Judge Roll’s murder — which occurred when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others also were shot Saturday –  was “very disturbing, just when we were beginning to feel secure,” U.S. Judge Robert Gettleman of Chicago told the magazine shortly after the rampage. He continued:

“As judges I’m confident most all of us would like to feel safe as participants in our communities without believing we need special protection. I hope that’s the norm, although recent events may indicate otherwise. We certainly don’t want to live our lives like judges in some other countries (like Russia, Kenya) must, under constant guard.”

Judge Roll had received death threats, and angry callers swamped his telephone lines, after he ruled in 2009 that a lawsuit by illegal immigrants against an Arizona rancher could go forward. The judge received federal security around the clock for a month.

But he apparently was an innocent bystander when he was shot fatally. Judge Roll, the chief judge in the Arizona district, had shown up to thank Giffords for signing a letter written to Judge Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It urged designation of Judge Roll’s district as a judicial emergency because of the high number of immigration cases, according to a Wall Street Journal article. Read more

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Monday Media Summary

KAGAN COMMENTARY

American Prospect/Tapped: Elena Kagan And Executive Power.
Adam Serwer – 5/14/2010

NY Times: On Speech, Kagan Leaned Toward Conservatives
ADAM LIPTAK – 5/16/2010

Big Journalism: Elena Kagan — Worryingly Wobbly On the First Amendment
Billy Hallowell – 5/14/2010

Sacramento Bee: What a Kennedy-Kagan duo might mean
Leslie Gielow Jacobs – 5/16/2010

Bloomberg Businesweek: Kagan Fit for Court Even Without Obama’s Hype: Albert R. Hunt
Albert R. Hunt – 5/16/2010

Time: Was Court Nominee Kagan a Youthful Socialist?
David Von Drehle – 5/15/2010

AP: NAACP backs Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Kagan
5/16/2010

Read more…

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Thursday Media Summary

SCOTUS NOMINATION REPORTING

Washington Post: Obama to make Supreme Court decision soon, aides say
Michael D. Shear and Robert Barnes – 5/6/2010

U.S. News & World Report/The Oval: Obama is ‘getting closer’ on Supreme Court pick
5/5/2010

FOX News: Obama Narrows List of Supreme Court Candidates
5/5/2010

NY Daily News: How’s That Bipartisan Thingy Working For You Mr. President?
Kenneth R. Bazinet – 5/5/2010

SCOTUS NOMINATION COMMENTARY

Charlotte Observer/AP: Stevens’ spirit looms large as Obama ponders pick
Ben Feller – 5/6/2010

NY Times: Long Shot for High Court Has Reputation for Compassion and Persuasion
JOHN SCHWARTZ – 5/5/2010

NY Times: Since Bork, a Long War Over the Court
PETER BAKER – 5/5/2010

AP: Justice Stevens: push for nominees’ views improper
ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS – 5/5/2010

Politico: Obama: Too much SCOTUS protest
CARRIE SEVERINO – 5/6/2010

SCOTUS NOMINATION/DIVERSITY

LA Times: To replace John Paul Stevens, an atheist
Marc Cooper – 5/4/2010

Read more…

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