As we come closer and closer to the edge of the fiscal cliff, cuts to the military and entitlement programs are getting the lion's share of the attention. But The Blog of The Legal Times (BLT) is on the case about the consequences of going over the fiscal cliff to the federal judiciary.
Here's what the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (A.O.) is saying about the possible impact, according to a letter published by the BLT from Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and self-styled budget hawk, to Judge Thomas Hogan, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts:
The A.O. warned that “[a]n 8.2 percent cut could amount to a $555 million [funding] reduction” and would be “devastating.” In addition, the A.O. intimated the federal courts could be forced to downsize its staff across the country by approximately one third as well as potentially require involuntary separations and/or up to five weeks of furlough for court employees. Your office also cautioned that defender services would be severely impacted by the suspension of payments to private attorneys and their staffs. And finally, the A.O. suggested court security would be cut by fifty percent, and jurors would not be paid for their services.
Grassley, the letter makes clear, is not impressed:
For a number of years, I have been raising concerns about the significant amount of court funding spent on non-case related travel. Thus far, the spending documents I have seen do not appear to justify the travel expenses associated with several events sponsored by various components of the judiciary. For instance, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held a weeklong conference in Maui, Hawaii, costing taxpayers well over $1 million. In another example, five district courts requesting new judgeships spent over $635,000 and used at least 1362 paid work days for non-court related travel in 2010 alone. Additionally, the Federal Public Defender’s Office (FPDO) for the Eastern District of California recently spent at least $25,000 for an employee spa weekend. And in fact, the 62 FPDOs across the country have spent at least $17 million on travel expenses over the past two years alone. While these only represent several examples, if spending on items of this nature were curtailed, the savings could go a long way towards filling the funding shortfalls your office identified.
The letter (PDF) gives the A.O. until December 4 to answer.
Photo: Leaping Off Black Rock In Kaanapali, Maui