Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Federal Judges Warn of Crisis in Public Defender Funding

Judges and lawyers went to Capitol Hill last week to once again warn of the dangers of inadequate federal court funding, even as lawmakers moved forward with bills that would restore budget cuts that are crippling the nation’s public defender and clerk offices, reported The National Law Journal.

Judge Julia Gibbons of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and chairwoman of the U.S. Judicial Conference’s budget committee, told a Senate subcommittee that the nearly $350 million in cuts to the courts this year under the across-the-board government spending reductions called sequestration, have been “devastating” and “painful.”

Clerks and probation and pretrial offices will lose as many as 1,000 staff and implement 8,600 furlough days during 2013, Gibbons said, which will slow civil and bankruptcy cases and harm public safety and effective representation by counsel. “If funding levels remain flat or decline, it compromises the constitutional mission of the courts,” Gibbons testified

Michael Nachmanoff, federal public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia, said that the nation’s federal defender system has lost than 200 employees and will be even worse off when the new budget starts on October 1, 2013. Federal defenders will be forced to terminate up to half their employees and close branch offices if funding stays at the same level, Nachmanoff told the Senate Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts. “If action is not taken immediately to save the program, the federal defender system will be devastated,” Nachmanoff said.

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