Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sequester causes more furlough time for federal defenders

According to a May 10 memorandum sent by Chief Judge William Traxler Jr., chairman of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, a committee of judges tasked with deciding how the federal judiciary spends its money alerted federal defender offices it had raised the maximum furlough time to 20 days, reported The Legal Times.

In mid-April the committee reported that federal defenders wouldn't face more than 15 furlough days under federal sequester budget cuts. Less than a month later, howeverthe committee reconsidered its April decision.

According to Traxler's memo, the judiciary set aside $6.4 million in April to lower the maximum furlough time in defender offices to 15 days. During a May 10 meeting of the executive committee, however, the defender services committee presented new information on steps certain offices were taking to deal with the cuts besides furloughs. A spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, David Sellers, told The Legal Times that those steps included cutting training, reducing libraries and office space and offering employee buyouts.

Following "extensive discussion on the difficult choices presented," Traxler wrote, the executive committee decided to redistribute the $6.4 million in a way that would give relief to defender offices coping with the cuts in ways besides furloughs.

Sellers said $3.3 million will be used to keep furlough time down to 20 days in offices that originally faced more than 20 days. There were approximately 30 defender offices nationwide in that group, including the District.

Federal court officials have appealed to Congress for emergency funding, including $14 million for the federal defender system. Under sequestration, the judiciary faced $350 million in budget cuts before the end of the fiscal year. Officials have expressed concern about how temporary measures, such as deferring payments to private criminal defense lawyers, will affect the fiscal year 2014 budget.

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