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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.

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State Budget Director Art Pope wasted no time getting to work after Gov. Pat McCrory was sworn in privately on Jan.5, 2013, reminding all state department and agency heads, in a memo dated Jan.7, that they had until Jan. 11 to submit two percent budget reduction options to his office.

As Governor McCrory begins the 2013-15 budget reparation, these reduction options are needed to initiate the budget preparation process. Agencies that did not submit the requested 2% reductions, must submit them to the Office of State Budget and Management by January 11, 2013. Agencies that wish to review and revise the reductions submitted to this office may submit revised reductions by January 11, 2013.

That’s not good news for the state courts, whose budget has already been “cut to the bone” over the past four years, Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts John Smith said in an interview last week.  The system is operating at a stress level higher than any he’s seen during his 30 years of involvement there, and added the following in response to the request for reduction options:

Simply put, the Judicial Branch cannot sustain another budget reduction at this level without sending people home. My highest priority at this time is protecting our workforce against another reduction and the damaging effect such a reduction would have on citizens trying to access justice.

Among the items that Smith ranks as urgent are the reinstatement of at least 28 magistrate positions;  restoration of the court employee step pay plan; and approximately two million dollars in funding to cover additional interpreter services, expert witness fees and the costs of the Racial Justice Act.

In addition, Smith said, the courts need to fill approximately 700 to 800 positions — superior court clerks, district court judges, additional magistrates, assistant district attorneys and support staff — in order to meet current workload demand.