Federal trial judges from around the country are telling the U.S. Senate that courts have slashed operations “to the bone” and further funding cuts will “profoundly compromise” the justice system.
Virginia’s two chief federal trial judges have signed off on a letter from 87 federal judges to Vice President Joe Biden, as President of the Senate. The judges warn that by December, courts will have to suspend payments to private panel attorneys for the last three weeks of the fiscal year.
Seasons of “flat funding” followed by the sequestration cuts that took effect on March 1 have had a “devastating impact,” according to Chief Judge Loretta A. Preska, of the Southern District of New York.
Current staffing in clerk’s offices and probation and pretrial services offices are at their lowest levels since 1999, despite significant workload growth during the same time period, Preska wrote. As of June, courts already have logged 4,500 furlough days in 2013, and an additional 4,100 furlough days are projected through the end of the fiscal year.
Sequestration resulted in a 30 percent cut in funding for court security systems and equipment, and cuts in offender supervision programs have put public safety at risk, the judges contend.
Most troubling are the $50 million in cuts to federal public defender programs, which have meant reductions in staff and increased costs from shifting more clients to private panel attorneys who charge by the hour.
“As the folks on the front lines,” serving the public, the judiciary does not have “projects or programs to cut; we only have people,” the judges said.
Chief Judge Rebecca Beach Smith, of the Eastern District of Virginia, and Chief Judge Glen E. Conrad, of the Western District, are among the judges who endorsed the appeal to the Senate.