Federal Judiciary Faces 'Fiscal Cliff' if Budget Act Is Not Adjusted, Says Editorial

If the 2011 Budget Control Act goes forward, the federal judiciary faces an 8.2 percent cost reduction that would send it “over the fiscal cliff,” the American Judicature Society says in an editorial.

Funding concerns, according to the nonprofit’s publication Judicature, have already caused the federal court to reduce staff by 1,100. If the Judicial Conference is held to the mandated cut, it would need to cut 5,400 more staff positions and mandate four-week furloughs for all personnel. Also, the piece notes, civil jury trials would be suspended for the fiscal year’s final six weeks, because of a lack of funds to pay jurors. Lawyers appointed to represent indigent defendants would have payments suspended for the same time period.

Previously, Judge James Holderman, chief judge of the Northern District of Illinois, said that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois may halt all civil and criminal court proceedings every Wednesday from January 2013 through September 2013 to meet budget demands, and also limit the supervision of convicted felons on post-incarceration release and criminal defendants out on bond.

“As a result of the across-the-board cuts … the Northern District of Illinois will have no choice but to periodically close our courthouses’ doors in Chicago and Rockford and furlough staff due to a lack of funding,” Holderman wrote in a letter (PDF) sent to 45 Illinois bar associations and legal organizations.

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