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12 23Mon10202014

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‘Lobby against sequestration’

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Visiting federal judge urges

STATING that sequestration will affect every facet of the court’s operation, a visiting appellate judge yesterday told attendees of the 2013 Guam Annual District Conference to pressure Congress to restore the federal judiciary’s budget at least up to the pre-sequestration level of funding.

“I don’t think we can continue to operate at the level that we are expected without the necessary funding. I urge you, all the members of the Bar, to do the best that you can to pressure Congress. The impact of sequestration is particularly severe to federal public defenders. The cuts that they had to suffer are really inexcusable. We need your help to make sure we get the appropriate level of funding because without the fund we cannot operate as the third branch of government,” Circuit Judge Paul J. Watford of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said.

The budget sequestration has reduced the federal Judiciary’s overall funding by nearly $350 million from the level appropriated in fiscal 2012.

Sequestration is impacting federal court operations and programs throughout the country, including a $51 million shortfall in the FY2013 funds of the Defender Services account.

In addition, staffing levels of federal public defenders could decline, resulting in delays in the appointment of defense counsels. Moreover, payments to attorneys appointed under the Criminal Justice Act could be delayed several weeks at the end of the year.

Funds have also been reduced for probation and pre-trial staffing, which means less deterrence, detection, and supervision of released felons from prison. Related funding for drug testing, drug treatment and mental health treatment were cut by 20 percent.

More cuts

Money for security systems and equipment has likewise been cut 25 percent and court security officer hours have been reduced. Furthermore, cuts in court staffing and hours threaten to impact public access and slow case processing. National information technology upgrades to improve infrastructure and financial management have also been delayed. 

The harsh impact of sequestration prompted the 87 Chief Judges of the United States to write a letter to the U.S. Congress expressing their deep concern with sequestration, especially the huge cut that will be suffered by the federal defender’s office and Criminal Justice Act panel.

Guam District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood yesterday said the letter she signed, along with the majority of chief judges in the nation, was a result of weeks of emails, conferences, and meetings regarding the impact of the sequestration.

She said the letter was sent to Congress a few days ago.

According to Watford, the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit, the biggest appellate circuit, fortunately does not have to furlough any workers. But he said they now only have 60 staff attorneys, down from 87, and they are not filling any vacant position.

“The 30 percent reduction of staff attorneys negatively impacted courts efficiency and the processing cases,” Watford added.

Watford, who joined the Ninth Circuit only in June 2012, said the appellate court had published at least 650 opinions for 2012 and that the 12,000 appeals they received in 2012 had been resolved in the same year.

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