The impact of sequestration on the federal courts will be direct and immediate, U.S. District Judge Julia Gibbons said this week at the courts’ biannual Judicial Conference.
That’s particularly true because the judicial budget is so heavily driven by personnel costs for judges, court staff, public defenders, jurors, and security officers and for the space they use and the technology and equipment they need.
According to a release from the Judicial Conference, up to 2,000 employees could be laid off or furloughed one day per pay period this fiscal year. These cuts are in addition to the loss of over 1,800 court staff over the last 18 months, which represents a 9 percent decline. Staffing levels right now are at March 2005 levels and could drop another five to ten percent by the end of September.
Just a few ways those cuts will be felt:
Public Safety: There will be fewer probation officers to supervise criminal offenders released into the community. Funding for drug testing and mental health treatment will be cut 20 percent.
Cases Delayed: With fewer available clerks’ office staff and the need to focus on criminal cases, there could be significant delays in the processing of civil and bankruptcy cases, which could adversely affect economic recovery.
Court Security: There will be a 30 percent cut in funding for court security systems and equipment and court security officers will work fewer hours, exposing courts and those who use them to possible vulnerabilities.
Federal Defenders: Staffing levels of federal public defenders will decline, which could result in delays in the appointment of defense counsel, and payments to attorneys appointed under the Criminal Justice Act could be delayed several weeks at the end of the year.
Information Technology: Deep cuts will be made for IT programs that the courts depend on for daily case processing and which have enabled the Judiciary to achieve efficiencies and limit budget growth.