Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Defenders representing alleged Boston bomber face layoffs

As the federal public defender office in Boston prepares to defend Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old charged in the Boston Marathon bombings, the lawyers involved face an added challenge: managing the case in the midst of furloughs, reported The National Law Journal.

Federally mandated budget cuts known as sequestration could force Tsarnaev's lawyers to take up to 15 days of unpaid leave before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. Lawyers familiar with the office said it is feeling the pinch in other ways, including leaving vacant positions unfilled.

The Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference approved a sequestration plan last week that included up to 15 furlough days for federal public defender offices nationwide. The plan slightly lowered the maximum furlough days facing the Boston office, which was planning for up to 16.5 days, according to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Prosecutors face furloughs under sequestration as well. Still, Tamar Birckhead, a former assistant federal public defender in Boston and professor at University of North Carolina School of Law, described the situation as "David and Goliath" because the U.S. attorney's office in Boston was backed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"People will pitch in and do what they can, but it is an unfortunate circumstance," Birckhead said. "It could result in a delay of a possible resolution of the case, which I'm sure is not what the public wants to see."

On Monday, a federal magistrate judge unsealed a criminal complaint accusing Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, of planting bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three people and wounded scores more. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged with one count of using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and one count of malicious destruction of property by means of an explosive device resulting in death; his brother died on April 19 in a shoot-out with police.

Tsarnaev is represented by federal public defender Miriam Conrad and two other lawyers from the Boston office, William Fick and Timothy Watkins.

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