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Government shutdown would have little impact on federal legal system

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Even if the U.S. Congress fails to pass a short-term budget measure and prevent a government shutdown before midnight Friday, the various arms of the Indiana federal legal community will remain operating mostly as usual – at least for the time being.

The clock is ticking toward 12 a.m. when a one-week stopgap resolution expires. If federal lawmakers and President Barack Obama don’t break the impasse, most nonessential government services will come to a halt. Negotiations have been ongoing all day and both political sides agreed on $38 billion in spending cuts, but no final resolution had been reached by deadline for this story.

At the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, spokeswoman Karen Redmond said the judiciary would use non-appropriated fees to continue full operations for the first weeks of a government shutdown. Each appellate, District, and bankruptcy court – as well as the judges – would continue those operations as part of their exercise of judicial power, and each would individually determine the number of court staff, probation, and pretrial service officers necessary to adequately maintain those court services. Notices are posted on each of Indiana’s federal courts, including the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, about how the shutdown would impact that court.

Clerk Laura Briggs in the Southern District said the court might have to limit its operations to those services deemed necessary and essential – such as accepting new cases – if a shutdown lasts longer than two weeks.

Since the courts will be open on Monday regardless, Briggs said that a planned event featuring 7th Circuit Judge Ann C. Williams will proceed as scheduled after initially being pushed back from February because of inclement weather.

But not everything would go on as usual.

Both U.S. Attorney’s Office districts directed questions to the Department of Justice, and spokesman Robert O’Donnell responded that all criminal litigation will continue without any interruption as “an activity essential to the safety of human life and the protection of property.”

“If there is a government shutdown, the Department will be forced to stop or significantly curtail an array of different activities and services that will have a national impact, including most civil litigation, community outreach to victims of crime, and the processing of grants,” he wrote in an email.

One question that concerns Chief Judge Richard Young in the Southern District of Indiana is whether background checks on potential magistrates will continue, impacting the ongoing review of Indianapolis attorney Denise LaRue who was confirmed as a federal magistrate judge earlier this year. She’d be able to begin as soon as a background check is complete since funding for the new position was authorized to begin April 1.

It wasn’t immediately clear if a shutdown would impact the Federal Community Defenders in Indiana, as some nationally have said they have enough funding on hand to continue operating on a temporary basis.
 

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