Category Archives: Federal System

TX: Sequestration may mean layoffs in El Paso

From The El Paso Times:

The Albert Armendariz Sr. Federal Courthouse in El Paso — among the busiest in Texas because of the number of immigration and drug cases — may be forced to close two days a month if the federal government continues to trim budgets in the next fiscal year, attorneys in El Paso said.

The government’s sequestration has affected civil and criminal trials, public defenders and attorneys, but continuing budget cuts in the face of immigration reform could cut courthouse jobs and increase criminal caseloads.

Maureen Scott Franco, the federal public defender for the Western District of Texas, which includes El Paso, said cuts to her office may lead to judges appointing more expensive Criminal Justice Act, or CJA, attorneys, who are usually attorneys in private practice who also make themselves available for federal appointments to cases.

“Our program throughout the U.S. is threatened to its very core if we do not get funding relief in Fiscal Year 2014. The cuts to my budget will result in fewer employees in the El Paso office and fewer cases we could handle.” Franco said the cost shifting from federal public defenders to appointed attorneys will end up costing the U.S. taxpayers “much more money.”

Because of the cuts, the Federal Public Defender’s Office has had to institute 12 furlough days, resulting in a 10 percent pay cut, and has cut funding available for CJA attorneys.

The effects of sequestration have also trickled down to legal nonprofit organizations such as Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which recently had to lay off six employees, or one-fourth of its total staff, and has had to reduce work hours from 40 hours a week to 35 hours a week.

Read the entire piece.

Defenders furloughed, but not prosecutors

From the Washington Post:

Federal budget cuts known as sequestration are taking a toll on lawyers representing those too poor to hire their own counsel. That means, of course, that it is ultimately the needy defendants and justice itself that are threatened.

Federal defenders faced furloughs of up to 20 days, but it varied among the 81 local offices and many had fewer unpaid days. Starting next month, pay for the private lawyers, known as “panel attorneys,” will drop from $125 an hour to $110. In capital cases, the fee will fall from $178 to $163. In addition, four weeks of their pay due in fiscal 2014 will be pushed into 2015.

No one weeps for those earning $110 an hour when so many people remain out of work. But many lawyers can make much more from well-heeled clients. More importantly, the pay cuts and the furloughs can hurt the administration of justice and that should insult everyone’s notion of fair play. Federal prosecutors have not been furloughed.

Read the entire article.

Funding crisis greatly hurting public defenders

From KCTV5:

KCTV5 first told viewers about the funding crisis in Western Missouri’s Federal Public Defender’s office in May and the drastic steps the top defender took trying to fix it. But now new cuts are set to make it even more difficult for public defenders to do their jobs at the federal courthouse.

They count every piece of paper, 90 percent of their furniture is second-hand, and they carpool to visit clients. That’s reality in the penny-saving Federal Public Defender’s Office, and it’s about to get worse.  “I can tell you our heads are barely above water at this point,” said Steve Moss, acting federal public defender.

Two months ago, the office’s top Federal Public Defender, Ray Conrad, retired early to stave off layoffs, but that hasn’t solved everything.

Now a new round of cuts, likely 14 to 18 percent, is coming for the next fiscal year starting October 1.  “The case loads are going up, the budget is going down, so that’s a bad combination,” Moss said.

Public defenders handle 65 percent of the federal cases tried in the Western Missouri District, and right now the office is averaging 53 cases per attorney, double the load 15 years ago.

Read the entire story.

Scrimping on justice for all

From The Washington Times:

Alarmingly, the federal public defender program is facing a crisis that may have a devastating impact on the ability of these lawyers to do their jobs, and on the fates of the people they represent.

Severe budget cuts, including those caused by sequestration, threaten to devastate federal defender offices across the county. The cuts to the federal defenders program have already forced these offices to furlough attorneys for up to 20 days this year. If Congress fails to provide adequate funding for 2014, a new round of budget cuts could force some offices to dismiss half their staff and force some offices to close.

Just as disturbing, the criminal dockets in our federal courts will become chaotic and unmanageable as federal defenders are forced to withdraw from cases because they are unable to continue to represent their clients. This resource-driven chaos has already begun to appear in various federal district courts across the country, particularly in complex, resource-intensive cases. For example, the trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law in New York was recently delayed because his attorneys — federal defenders — were furloughed. These delays may hamper prosecutions, slow resolution of open cases, and cause some cases to be dismissed altogether if a defendant’s right to speedy trial is violated. This could prove to be a threat not only to justice, but to public safety.

Read the entire story here.

Presumed guilty: Unequal cuts threaten equal justice

From MSNBC (making the big time!):

The sequester is often described as an “across the board” spending cut–a term that implies shared sacrifice. For the criminal justice system, however, the cuts are one-sided. According to estimates from around the country, the sequester is hitting public defenders and courts far harder than prosecutors. Whether by design or default, the sequester is systematically magnifying inequities in the courts–and potentially undermining constitutional rights. The details vary by region, but in many federal districts, public defenders are facing cuts that are double to quadruple the size of their opponents across the court room. According to reports by defenders and government officials, that’s the case from Texas to Arizona and New Jersey to Massachusetts, where federal defenders are laboring under a $51 million shortfall.

Read the entire story here.