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Federal criminal lawyers remain on the job, for now

Alexandria Federal Courthouse

Alexandria Federal Courthouse

Despite the federal government shutdown, federal prosecutors and public defenders are at work – at least for the next two weeks – and criminal court hearings are being held in the U.S. courts of Virginia.

But those on the job are worried about when they will get paid, and many other employees of the U.S. attorney’s offices are on furlough without any guarantee of payment for the lost time, according to Timothy Heaphy, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia.

“It’s causing a lot of uncertainty and consternation,” Heaphy said of the shutdown.

While government lawyers involved in criminal prosecution are at work, those involved with civil litigation, victims’ services and community outreach are deemed “nonessential,” Heaphy said.

“All the other things we do beyond our core mission of criminal cases have come to a halt,” he said.

Heaphy said he had planned to attend a summit conference on human trafficking in Richmond on Friday, but will not be going because it is not deemed an essential function of his office.

The federal public defenders in Virginia say their offices are funded for the next ten business days, with uncertainty after that.

“If the government shutdown persists more than ten working days, the judiciary will have to follow the same procedures as other parts of the government in determining who is essential and who is not essential,” said Michael S. Nachmanoff, the federal public defender for Virginia’s Eastern District. “Essential employees will be required to work but will not be paid until the shutdown is resolved,” he said.

“Of course, we have constitutional obligations to fulfill and court deadlines to meet.  We will not let down any of our clients.  But this is a terrible, demoralizing and outrageous position to be in after suffering a 10 percent cut in our budget in FY 2013, 10 days of furloughs over the past six months and the loss of more than 10 percent of our staff through retirements and layoffs,” Nachmanoff said in an email.

The number of defenders working without pay after Oct. 15 would depend on what happens in the prosecutors’ offices, said Larry Shelton, the public defender for the Western District.

“The number of employees furloughed will be determined, in large part, by the number of furloughs at the U.S. attorney’s office,” Shelton said. “If they continue their normal operation, we will follow suit.”

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