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Judge: Continuing current sequestration cuts would be ‘devastating’ to justice system

IL Staff
July 24, 2013
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A federal judge implored a Senate panel Tuesday to provide sufficient funding for U.S. courts, warning that the general public will lose the access to justice that has been a hallmark of this country.

Judge Julia S. Gibbons, chair of the Budget Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts.

“Our workload does not go away because of budget shortfalls,” Gibbons said. “Deep cuts mean that the judiciary cannot perform adequately its constitutional and statutory responsibilities.”

Under sequestration, federal courts will receive 5 percent less funding in the current fiscal year than in fiscal year 2012.

The current staffing level of the clerks of court, probation and pretrial services personnel is the lowest since 1999, yet the workload is higher now than 14 years ago.

The budget cut $52 million from the federal defender program. Gibbons pointed out that nearly 90 percent of federal criminal defendants require court-appointed counsel. The federal defender offices have downsized about 6 percent since October, and it’s anticipated that staff will be furloughed an average of 15 days for the rest of this year.

Gibbons also testified that funding for courthouse security has dropped 30 percent, leading to increased risks in public safety.

The judiciary is concerned that continuing at current sequestration levels into fiscal year 2014 would result in the loss of additional court and defender jobs, as well as cuts in services.

“Such a scenario would be devastating for our entire system of justice,” Gibbons said.
 

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