According to information released on November 27, 2013 at the Federal Bar Council’s Annual Thanksgiving Luncheon, the federal courts cannot continue to operate in Fiscal Year 2014 at funding levels equal to last year “without adversely impacting its constitutional and statutory responsibilities.”  Last year’s budgets for all federal agencies were reduced over the prior year by the sequestration when Congress failed to reach an agreement on an operating budget for the federal government triggering a vast reduction in spending on all federal programs.  In fiscal year 2013, Judiciary funding was cut by nearly $350 million.  The cuts are devastating because the Judiciary has no control over its workload; the courts must react to the cases it receives from the Executive Branch, including criminal cases, individuals and businesses.  Congress will be debating a budget in the coming months and if they fail to reach an agreement on spending levels, an additional round of sequestration cuts will occur. 

 The Federal Bar Council is an organization of attorneys who practice before the federal courts of New York, Connecticut and Vermont.  According to the Federal Bar Council, if last year’s cuts are frozen in place there will be serious consequences throughout the federal judiciary.  Operating budgets would drop three percent below FY 2013 levels.  This would result in an estimated loss of 1,000 employees nationwide through the end of FY 2014.  The courts have already lost 3,000 staff positions since July 2011. 

 These staff cuts would further reduce supervision and drug and mental health treatment services for convicted felons released from prison; lengthen an already severe backlog in the processing of civil and bankruptcy cases; further reduce public hours in clerks’ offices; and cancel or extend costly delays in the implementation of critical information technology applications.  Probation and pretrial services staffing would be reduced.

 A hard freeze would also result in a $6 million shortfall for jurors’ fees. 

 Court security would experience a $23 million shortfall.  Hours for Court Security Officers would be reduced by 50 hours each.  In FY 2013, sequestration resulted in a 30 percent cut in funding for court security systems and equipment and additional reductions were made in contract guard services.  According to the Federal Bar Council, ” [c]uts of this scale would create severe security vulnerabilities throughout the federal court system by impairing the [U.S. Marshal’s Service] ability to provide adequate security for judges, jurors, litigants, court personnel, and the public.” 

 Amounts paid to CJA lawyers, who represent the indigent in criminal cases, would be reduced by $15 per hour and payments would be delayed two weeks into FY 2015. 

The Federal Public Defenders, who represent 40 percent of indigent defendants, received a $52 million cut in FY 2013.  20,600 days of employee furloughs resulted from the cuts and staff was reduced by 11 percent or 400 employees. 

During the Thanksgiving luncheon, the Federal Bar Council kicked off a Congressional writing campaign to restore funding to the Judiciary above sequestration levels. 

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