Bankruptcy judge warns of impact of ‘fiscal cliff’

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Chief Judge James K. Coachys in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Indiana sent a memo to the Indiana State Bar Association Wednesday explaining how budget cuts and the potential “fiscal cliff” have affected the court.

Nearly 90 percent of the court’s budget this year has been allocated to pay clerk’s office personnel. The number of staff has been reduced over the years: for the fiscal years 2011 and 2012, the court cut four and five positions, respectively. Coachys anticipates cutting six positions by early January because of a projected shortfall of nearly $500,000. Since the end of fiscal year 2011, the staff has gone from 73 to 58 when including the upcoming cuts.

The court is also eliminating or severely curtailing funding for cyclical building maintenance, personnel training, travel and supplies, the memo says.

He expects the budget to be reduced further for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, leading to more personnel terminations.

Historically, the Southern District of Indiana has ranked in the top 15 of the 94 judicial districts in terms of the bankruptcy cases filed.

“Although the information here is specific to our district, the budget cuts described and the resulting changes are similar to those being experienced by bankruptcy courts cross the country,” Coachys writes. “In fact, I have patterned this memo on a similar one by Chief Bankruptcy Judge Pat Morgenstern-Clarren in the Northern District of Ohio – a court experiencing very similar challenges.”

The “fiscal cliff” – automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect Jan. 2 unless Congress acts – will result in sequestration of funds otherwise budgeted for all federal agencies, according to the memo.

“I hope that the information is useful in understanding how this Court continues to restructure to operate with the amounts allocated to us, and how that process is expected to continue in future budget cycles,” Coachys writes to the state bar. “However, be assured that we are doing our utmost in these extremely challenging times of declining resources to continue providing prompt and efficient service to you and your clients.”



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